The Robotic Cloud

It’ starting to get really interesting in the field of robotics.  Liabilities are being loosened and we are now seeing surveillance drones being used for crop dusting, traffic reporting and wildlife conservation.  Tomorrow holds a brighter robotic future and one of the biggest drivers in the opening up of the software to the Cloud.

Tomorrow, Aug. 17, the IEEE in cooperation with the National Science Federation will host a workshop to “explore the potential for Cloud Computing to dramatically improve manufacturing and automation.”  According to the program literature (linked above) the topic of “Cloud Computing” has been sparked specifically by G.E.’s Industrial Internet mission that aims to build the “the Internet of Things” by connecting real-time analysis to machine sensors, such as turbines, gears and actuators. Obviously, this has real implications for robotics.  As an angel investor, I have seen a slew of software companies connect Cloud-based dashboards fleets of unmanned devices. These simple drag-n-drop-like tools provide unskilled operators ease of deployment at the push of a button.  It is this writer’s opinion that this trend of opening up complex robotics to the masses with tools that look like iPhone apps will be one of the biggest paradigm shifts to hit robots since Bubble Bee found The Wiki.

According to the organizers, the motivation of the Cloud Workshop (which is part of the larger CASE 2013 conference in Madison, Wisconsin) is the U.S. National Robotics Initiative that earmarked over $70M for new research to improve competitiveness of US manufacturing sectors.  The conference literature sites Amazon’s Kiva Systems as an example of this new cloud based approach. While Kiva is one of the most high profile ones, I was in MIT’s Media Lab last week and I can attest to more exciting innovations on display.  As  Steve Cousins of Willow Garage exclaims, “No robot is an island” and as such every invention has a ripple effect that will impact not only manufacturing, but research and societies as we know it.

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