The transition from automation to autonomy is in full swing

With SONAR Trend Platform, Reply is able to create an overview and mapping of relevant trends related to ”Autonomous Things”, based on their occurrence within expert media articles, mass media, patents and scientific publications. 

#Cloud Computing

How autonomous is the world right now?

Progress in AI has spurred a number of Autonomous Things (ATs) such as drones, robots and vehicles for tasks previously performed by humans. While autonomous household appliances are widely commercialized, autonomous cars or passenger drones are at least a decade away from large-scale introduction.

With significant advances in enabling technologies such as AI, Lidar, Computer Vision and 5G, Autonomous Technology is expected to evolve from stand-alone solutions to a complex swarm of collaborative intelligent systems that master unstructured surroundings.

Moving from automation to autonomy

Supported by Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, autonomous technologies enable things to move and interact freely without active physical control or supervision by a human operator. The technology is still in the development stage, but rapid advances are driving a growing global market.

Things that are becoming autonomous

    Progress in AI and navigation technology is leading to a new generation of autonomous robots and UAVs being increasingly commercialized in indoor and outdoor environments and applications such as retail, security and inspection, agriculture, delivery, transportation and warehouse management. Robots are changing fundamentally: they are becoming intelligent, mobile and able to interact and collaborate with a human counterpart. Especially, the area of autonomous mobile robots is experiencing enormous growth, mainly due to increasing e-commerce and the need to optimise warehouse capacity and efficiency.

    Autonomous mobility is picking up speed with a new breed of transport-as-a-service offerings in various test regions: commercial robo-taxis starting operations, as well as short-distance delivery bots and autonomous food delivery services. The emergence of these new services – mostly driven by big players from the high-tech, automotive, shipping and food industries – leads to a high media presence, while slow-moving shuttle services in strictly geographical areas start to establish themselves more quietly. Through investments, the area of autonomous trucking is growing.

Technology that makes things autonomous

    Despite the remarkable progress made in recent years, there are still some technological hurdles that need to be overcome within the autonomous core technologies around sensing, mapping and processing: In the field of hardware, a fierce battle for efficiency and cost reduction is being fought: solid-state lidar solutions are gaining in importance as they are cheaper, faster and higher resolution (a price below $250 per unit will soon be reached) – whereas some approaches question the need for lidar in general. In radar technology, the current focus is on high-resolution 4D solutions that promise higher accuracy at lower cost. In addition to the network capacity needed to handle the massive amounts of data, software solutions are needed to meet the increasing functional requirements. But above all there is the challenge of cyber security.

    In addition to the regulatory environment, technology standards and a suitable intelligent infrastructure, advances in core technologies such as AI, ML, 5G, Blockchain, Cloud and Edge Computing are a prerequisite for an autonomous future. On the way to full autonomy, contextual AI and machine learning skills in particular are indispensable building blocks for perception, prediction and self-sufficient decision making and currently attract the highest funding volumes in the field of autonomous technology. The expansion of 5G networks - with constant and reliable high-speed data transmission - is on the advance, with the first commercial networks being switched live in both the USA and South Korea.

Business implications

Cost reduction and increasing efficiency

Autonomous things will increasingly take over repetitive, dangerous and to a certain degree intelligent labor previously conducted by human workforce, reducing costs while increasing output, e.g. due to 24/7 operations, AI-based real-time decision making and optimization. Moreover, workers will be increasingly supported by autonomous cobots working hand in hand with them.

Freeing up time of customers and employees

Autonomous things will free up tremendous amounts of human time – in the private as well as business life. People can spend the freed time differently, opening up business opportunities for new products and services providing an enhanced customer experience e.g. during travelling, work or at home being freed of time-consuming household chores.

Compensating labor shortages & new skill demand

Increasingly sophisticated autonomous mobile robots, drones and vehicles represent a way to compensate for labor shortages in certain business fields but also will displace jobs with a high level of routine (e.g. loading and unloading). More intelligent labor will follow due to data-driven and AI tech. Job profiles will have to transform towards more advanced and soft skills.

Rise of Autonomy-as-a-Service business models

Companies with little experience in automation as well as limited resources for buying autonomous equipment will be able to take advantage of an increasing number of service providers offering fully automated and unmanned systems as a service, taking over the installation, management and maintenance of autonomous workforces.

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