Autonomous Things (AuT) technology has not only found use cases in several industries including retail, security, transportation, military, and more – it’s already transforming the very way we live. Find everything you should know about AuT in this guide.
Autonomous Things (AuT), also known as the Internet of Autonomous Things (IoAT), are devices that use machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to complete specific tasks. AuTs are equipped with sensors, AI and analytical capabilities to improve the things they can do. To that effect, each machine can make its own decision and complete tasks autonomously.
Some examples of AuT are self-driving cars, drones, autonomous smart home devices, and every other technology that does not need human control to be operational. These technologies may aid in the partial or full completion of tasks. Hence, AuT has found use cases in several industries including retail, security, transportation, security, and military.
The world’s leading research and advisory company Gartner ranked Autonomous Things first on its list of the top 10 strategic technology trends for the future. According to Gartner, strategic technology has a high disruptive potential that has begun breaking out of an emerging state to gain wider adoption. Also, these technologies have a high degree of volatility to reach great heights in the next five years.
Popular Trends in Autonomous Things
Unarguably, there is a range of devices that operate autonomously. However, a selected few have stolen the attention of small and large scale companies, individuals and the world at large. The popular trends in autonomous things include:
Autonomous vehicles are still in their development stage, nonetheless, the mere fact that cars will someday drive on their own has caught the attention of many. These vehicles will eliminate human error, which is the major cause of road accidents. Several tests have been carried out since 2018 to check how well these cars can drive and adapt to our roads. Expectations are also high that autonomous cars will be the first mass-deployment of AuT technologies.
Drones are often controlled by an operator, but that is changing rapidly. Drones can now control themselves and make decisions based on the situation. In addition, modern drones are being used as delivery vehicles, especially by the military. These devices also serve as data collectors from different environments.
Robotics encompasses personal robots, delivery robots, smart robots, autonomous mobile robots, and robotic appliances. There’s the delivery robot, for example, which is currently used in warehouses for the manufacturing process. It is expected that more robots will be used in supply chain networks due to the immense benefits they offer. For starters, they reduce the potential for accidents in warehouses.
Current Use Cases of Autonomous Things
There a wide range of use cases for Autonomous Things. Some of these use cases include:
Robo-taxis is a ride-hailing platform from Tesla, an American electric vehicle and clean energy company. The platform could potentially change the ownership of cars and compete with Uber and Lyft. In 2018, Elon Musk, Tesla CEO revealed that its robo-taxis will hit the road in 2019. However, the launch was delayed even though the company is gearing up to launch 1 million robo-taxis this year. In Musk’s own words, “I feel very confident in predicting autonomous robo-taxis next year.”
Platooning or flocking offers seamless communication between a group of self-driving trucks. The distance between each vehicle is reduced, thereby enabling them to accelerate and brake at the same time. The aim is to enable these vehicles to ply the road and move safely at high speed. And also reduce the strain on current drivers.
Accordingly, Peloton, an automated and connected vehicle technology company has adopted swarm intelligence that uses Vehicle to Vehicle (V2V) communication to enable these vehicles to collaborate. The American company is also the first to have tested a non-research commercial truck platooning system using public roads in the U.S.
There are autonomous shopping systems like the Amazon Go, which enables shoppers to make purchases without relying on checkout or cashiers. These systems determine how much of a product to buy, in what quantity, and the amount.
What’s more, autonomous technology providers aim to improve the user’s shopping experience through the use of self-checkout systems. According to a study, the retail industry has the greatest potential to create value using autonomous technologies and AI.
Military drones have advanced greatly from what they were before. Today, autonomous drones collect intelligence and support decision making in real-time. They have been programmed to make decisions based on the challenges they face. Further, these modern and advanced machines can carry weapons and can be controlled remotely to determine when to use lethal weapons.
Lethal autonomous weapons (LAWs)
LAWs are still being researched and there seems to be a disagreement among reputable members of the public about the use of autonomous weapons in the military. Those against its use outrightly say that they need to be stopped. Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and Steve Wozniak who oppose the use of automated weapons believe these machines will make it even easier to start wars. Hence, LAWs need to be banned.
For those who support these machines, they believe that machines lack emotion and their judgment cannot be clouded by rage or fear. Also, these machines can help to differentiate between civilians and enemy troops more accurately.
Search and Rescue
The Netherlands’ Delft University of Technology is meddling with ambulance drone technology. A drone of this nature will improve emergency infrastructure, thereby increasing the number of people rescued each time. For starters, the school has developed a prototype that delivers a defibrillator to a heart attack victim.
As such, people are open-minded to the tech since it could potentially reduce the number of deaths linked to heart disease. The same can be said about regions with natural disasters like flood tornadoes, earthquakes, etc. These are locations where immediate help may not be available, but relief materials can still be sent to people living there.
More accurate weather forecasts can change the way businesses operate and how people lead their lives. To that effect, Saildrone is a water-based unmanned surface vehicle (USVs). And this technology obtains data directly from the ocean’s surface. The oceanic and atmospheric data helps analysts to offer better weather forecasts.
Challenges of Autonomous Things
As would be the case of any emerging technology, autonomous technology is also plagued with challenges. Some of these setbacks include:
The weather, road, pedestrian and even traffic can affect how autonomous vehicles and drones operate. The reason can be tied to the vehicle’s use of sensors to make decisions. Thus, for these vehicles to drive seamlessly and safely, their sensors have to work accurately at all times. Nevertheless, this may not always be the case due to environmental elements.
In line with that, there is still no perfect sensor since these cars will require a wide range of sensors to properly see and understand the space they’re driving. Sensors like radar help in detecting complex shapes, which makes the vehicle drive through fog or rain. There is also Lidar and it makes it easy to capture an object’s shape. However, Lidar can also be impacted by the weather.
Another major challenge of autonomous vehicles lies in their level of security. Since these systems are computers themselves, it leaves them vulnerable to a hack. Their driving mechanisms may be manipulated thereby putting the passenger at risk. A cybercriminal may also attack the system and demand ransom before letting a user in or out of their cars, or even control the vehicle to a different location.
What’s more, there’s the potential for unauthorized access to be gained to driving information such as where the user goes to, how often, etc. If that happens, a user can easily be tracked and could possibly face grave dangers such as an attack or robbery. A hack into the system can create an avenue to destroy it and cause financial harm to the car’s owner.
Regulations have time and again been pointed out as a major limitation to advancements in technology. When it comes to drones there are strict regulations to limit where these devices are used and how high they can fly. These limitations may remain until those in power are confident that drones are ready to be a part of the real world.
An example of a regulation restriction for drone robots is the US Federal Aviation Administration flying altitude limit of 400 feet unless a user has been permitted to fly higher. Also, drones weighing below 50kg are allowed to operate autonomously. There’s also the limitation on drones flying in populated areas without a remote pilot.
While autonomous cars aim to improve the way we drive, it does not totally eliminate the potential for accidents to occur. For instance, autonomous vehicles led to passenger and driver fatalities. That being said, it may be difficult to determine who is liable for accidents caused by these cars since a software controls how the car makes decisions and generally, how it drives.
In line with that, newer designs of autonomous vehicles do not have a dashboard or steering wheel. As such, the passenger is left totally helpless when an accident is about to occur. The lack of basic components such as the brake pedal, accelerator pedal, and steering wheel means that power is totally left in the hands of the vehicle. Passengers may also be absent-minded while being driven to escape potential dangers. The reason is a result of the confidence they may have in these cars.
Compared to traditional automatic or manual vehicles that need to be controlled by a driver, autonomous vehicles are more expensive. For starters, it costs tens of thousands of dollars just to obtain a vehicle of this nature. The latter means that it will be too expensive for an average individual to purchase.
Therefore, the high cost that comes with driving an autonomous vehicle may deter consumers from buying it and at the same time affect its adoption. Accordingly, car manufacturers will need to create a cost-effective driverless car that is either priced in the same range as traditional vehicles or slightly higher.
Leading Companies Using Autonomous Things
Some of the leading companies focused on autonomous vehicles or drones include:
Tesla is a leading company in the autonomous vehicles market that is looking at self-driving cars that will free humans from driving themselves. These cars will be accessed by humans using a smartphone and the vehicles will run day and night, powered by electricity. What’s more, Tesla has is car maker with 17 years of experience, and as such, there are high expectations that its electric cars will offer something promising.
Ford Motor Company has been designing vehicles for 116 years. And the American company is towing the path of Tesla by looking to launch autonomous vehicles. Ford partnered with autonomous vehicle platform Argo AI to test self-driving vehicles in Pittsburgh, Miami, Palo Alto, Washington, D.C., and Detroit. According to the company, these vehicles will be launched in 2021.
Swedish multinational manufacturing company Volvo is also not lagging behind when it comes to self-driving cars. Volvo collaborated with Uber to introduce a variant of the XC90 SUV. The latter works with Uber’s autonomous driving system and may be launched early this year.
Cruise is a company that designs self-driving cars at General Motors’ (GM) manufacturing plant. The San Francisco-based company was founded in 2013, and it focuses on designing cars purpose-built for self-driving. GM, on the other hand, is one of the largest car makers in the world. The company has been operating for 111 years now, and it recorded a revenue of US$137.237 billion in 2019.
Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW) is very much interested in driverless cars. The company has been operating for 104 years now, and according to the German company, its engineers and technicians have been working on driver assistance systems.
Baidu may not be majorly focused on the car industry, however, China’s search engine giant has also found autonomous vehicles useful. In 2018, the Internet-related services company reportedly drove over 1 million miles in 13 cities in China. Baidu was founded 20 years ago and it had a revenue of CN¥102.3 billion as of 2018.
Waymo is an American company that designs autonomous driving vehicles and it is a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., the same company that owns Google. Waymo was founded in 2016, and in 2018, it received $2.25 billion in funding from several venture capitalists, strategic operators, and private equity firms.
Airdata UAV was founded in 2015, and it is a company specially focused on developing drones. Airdata has also adopted autonomous technology to improve the way drones are controlled and how they operate. According to the company, it offers its services to tens of thousands of small-to-large drone fleet operators. And these operators are in almost 200 countries worldwide.
Autonomous Things have a high potential to reduce accidents, improve emergency response times, and offer accurate targeting of enemies in war zones. However, these technologies are still new and need to be improved before they become practical to be used in our everyday lives. And most importantly, these devices require different levels of safety to overcome the negative impacts that may stem from their use.