The robots are definitely coming in 2017
By Steve Mackay, PhD
Monday, 13 February, 2017
I have a marvellous engineering book from 32 years ago entitled The Robotics Revolution, by Peter Scott. It gives fairly minimal mention about software, focusing more on the mechanical, electrical and control aspects. We can say today, without a shadow of doubt, that the robots are definitely coming — with an overwhelming focus on software and artificial intelligence.
Below are my suggestions on the top technology trends this year that will start to impact on you as engineering professionals working in the field of industrial automation.
Machine learning and artificial intelligence
Robots will continue to surpass and overtake what we as humans can do, especially in managing huge amounts of data — from autonomous driving cars, to drones, to traditional administrative tasks resulting in a hollowing out of middle-level jobs, with the robo-boss (yes!) becoming a reality for many today. Naturally, we need imaginative designers and engineers to create these devices.
The IoT and a super-interconnected world
Solid growth in connectivity with sensors (and actuators) although (as we can surely remember from the fieldbus wars) a lack of standardisation makes it all very fractured at present. By 2020, 25 billion sensor devices will be generating data (according to Gartner). How do we handle this volume?
Cybersecurity and cybercrime
I reckon most of us have been touched by virus attacks and assaults on our bank accounts and IT systems. Security must be built into everything we do, rather than as an afterthought. Digital thieves are smarter than ever and are proliferating at an alarming rate. We are under constant attack and need to be vigilant, especially with our industrial infrastructure now connected to the internet.
Smartphones becoming your primary tool
Smartphones and tablets have already become a key mobile tool in our homes and businesses and, indeed, in our industrial plants. I just wish the batteries would last longer. Have you used your smartphone to measure voltage and current yet?
Virtual and augmented reality
This is finally working. With the arrival of the Oculus Rift viewer and other related low-cost devices, one can get a brilliant virtual experience, which is especially valuable for training and entertainment.
Cloud computing will be used widely in the industrial world. This will barrel along with greater emphasis where software will be centralised and easily accessible. This will reduce the need for IT expertise (such as networking) at each individual firm, as all fixes/configuration will be done at a central, cloud-based server. There are still enormous — and justifiable — concerns about protection of data in the cloud.
Drones or UAVs
These will be applied to business use more. Drone technology is growing strongly and will be allowed to make deliveries and perform other mundane public tasks.
An interesting comment from Cynthia Breazeal of MIT: “If you look at the field of robotics today, you can say robots have been in the deepest oceans, they’ve been to Mars, you know? They’ve been all these places, but they’re just now starting to come into your living room. Your living room is the final frontier for robots.”
All the best for a fabulous 2017 — I hope it meets all your expectations. Above all, stay healthy and maintain your happy personal connections.
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