Sorry, WALL-E: Here are the real connected robots changing industries
A new era of cloud robotics is changing the way industries are thinking about what’s possible in automation.
It’s 2017, and the robot invasion has begun in earnest. From vacuum cleaners to street directories, coffee machines to car washes, the robots ‘walk’ among us.
In fact, our ‘There’s an app for that’ mentality is quickly becoming, ‘There’s an AI for that’ as technology improves and more of our daily routine involves a robot’s presence.
But far from the horror stories bathed in blood and tears that Hollywood has, for years, prepared us for, the robot revolution is a good thing.
One of the purposes of automation is to improve our quality of life by making the things we dislike doing more efficient, so we have more time to do what we enjoy. And, in industry, it enables the production of cheaper, more effective products to meet Earth’s ever-escalating demand.
Automation is just part of the story, however. What happens when robots become connected – the internet of robots, so to speak? It sure means a lot more than just remote access to your android underlings.
Research firm International Data Corp (IDC) recently published its top 10 predictions for the future of robotics. It declared that, by 2018, 30 per cent of all new robots will be connected and capable of collaboration.
And, by 2020, 60 per cent will be guided from the cloud, while 40 per cent will operate through a shared intelligence.
What is cloud robotics?
Your classic robot is one where its complete Artificial Intelligence (AI) potential is built into its physical body. So, it has a computer that’s constructed and tested to complete its tasks as effectively as possible.
While this is a functional approach, it may be restrictive. As technology and our understanding of artificial intelligence improves, the traditional robot stands still as a product of its time.
It’s also expensive to build as the power cooling and casing needed to run its artificial intelligence at optimal levels needs to be built into a physical system.
Cloud robotics, on the other hand, sees the humble robot merely as a drone that’s connected to an online hive brain.
By taking the AI out of the physical robot and placing it in the cloud, production costs could be reduced. It also means that any evolution or new understandings provided by that AI can be used by all of its connected robots.
In addition, the onset of machine learning – whereby cloud-based super AI analyses torrents of big data to look for trends to adapt their approach without human intervention – means that cloud robotics could evolve exponentially with use.
For many industries, the benefits are immeasurable. It allows more to be done with less, and ensures greater trust can be placed in automation. Here are just a handful of ways different industries are preparing for a future with connected robots.
The self-driving car, famously pioneered by Google, may look like a vehicle, but it’s actually a connected robot.
While the car’s AI controls the mechanical elements of movement – such as steering, braking and acceleration – the grander journey is governed by Google Maps’ cloud-based AI.
The vehicle is designed to send real-time data every split-second about its exact positioning, and the cloud reports back with ideal routes, current traffic conditions, roadworks and more. It is designed to constantly analyse this data and the proximity of nearby vehicles and is designed to ensure a safe, efficient voyage.
The ways in which connected robots are changing the medical industry are legion. Assistive robots are one example, enabling aiding the care of elderly or disabled people.
These connected robots can constantly feed data back to the cloud about a patient’s condition, while their most recent medical information can be passed back the other way.
One surprising cloud robotics application we’re seeing in health is in gene sequencing. The video game, Play to Cure: Genes in Space, sadly no longer available to download, looked like a shooter game where you flew through the stars blasting asteroids.
But, in truth, you were flying through complex real-life DNA data, seeking out faults that researchers are looking for as they work towards a cure for cancer.
The method allows for many citizens to contribute by using their mobile to connect to these extremely powerful machines, assisting to reduce the time taken to analyse the data.
There’s already a lot of automation in the retail space, with the exchange of money and information, and the delivery of a product seamless in most instances.
The next advancement we could see is the use of connected drones to deliver products to consumers. These connected robots could use GPS technology and key real-time data, like weather, to collect parcels from a warehouse and deliver them to their destination without human intervention.
You might say they’re the carrier pigeons of the future.
For those industries on the frontline of disasters, both natural and manmade, connected robots could not only help to save lives, but they could also help to protect them.
Relatively unaffected by factors like extreme temperatures and noxious gasses, robots could be sent into areas in which humans aren’t fit to travel in search of survivors or answers.
While originally operated by remote control, this industry is now benefiting from the rise of connected robots, which can feed back information to people all over the world.
In an immediate sense, that could be visual identification of a survivor or information on temperatures and air consistency. In a broader sense, they could provide data on what to expect in certain situations for training purposes.
The Skycatch is an interesting system employed by Japanese construction machinery kingpin, Komatsu, using drones and driverless vehicles, like automated bulldozers.
The drones look down from the sky, digitally mapping a location in 3D and sending that to the bulldozer so it can plot the best course through a construction zone.
By the 2050 FIFA World Cup, a team of robots could be able to beat the human champions. At least, that’s the belief of engineers at UNSW.
They are working on technology now with the aim of achieving that goal, with connected robots potentially able to work better as a team by analysing the tactics and strategies of their opposition, and sharing a counter operation in response.
In the future, we could all be watching on as elite robotic teams battle it out to see who has the fastest, most adaptive connected AI.