Our Automated Tomorrow: The Rise of Drones and Robots
Embedded software continues to give newer dimensions to how technology can impact human lives. Embedded systems have almost become ubiquitous, from wearable devices to powering automobiles to flying airplanes. The latest announcements, further leveraging the use of embedded systems in reaching out to the community at large, are very exciting to watch.
Amazon made headlines recently with Jeff Bezos’ statement that the company is testing drones, called “octocopters,” for package deliveries. The United States is still lagging behind in adopting drones for commercial use, while places such as Australia have a head start.
Federal regulations are the biggest challenge in implementing drones in the United States. Several universities have been researching the use of drones and the technology behind it, and they believe Amazon may be the big enterprise push that drones need to win the government’s support for getting commercial drones into operation.
Tolerance for errors in implementing drones is often very low, both because of the security impact of attacks on drone-collected data and the physical impact on humans from drone failures. This calls for a lot of testing even after the announcement of a drone program has been made.
In Australia where drones are expected to start functioning early next year, a lot of delivery testing has already been completed to build confidence—among the community, the government, and the organization launching it—that the system is foolproof and ready for public consumption.
The field of robotics in general has been getting a lot of buzz recently. Amazon itself has been using robots from Kiva Systems, a specialist in warehouse automation, in its warehouses to move packages around. Knightscope is building a mobile security guard robot that may soon be monitoring school campuses.
The industry as a whole is learning the adaptations of robotic engineering by the day, but equally interesting is how we test for these in the real world. An in-lab testing program alone will not suffice to get these smart machines out in the marketplace. A lot of field testing, including “hardware in the loop” testing, will become necessary to build the required confidence before their release.
On one hand it is exciting to see how these robots will change the way humans and businesses operate a few years from now, but skepticism continues about whether they will take away jobs that humans do today. Still, technology has traditionally been both a job gobbler and a job creator. As we wait to watch how it shapes the space of robotic engineering, we are sure to witness exciting times ahead as these robots come into mainstream consumption.