Clearly, robots and the IoT are vastly different. And yet they are also undoubtedly evolving together, as each helps the other to develop and innovate.
As reported by the World Economic Forum, robots ‘become considerably more capable with internet connections’ – in short, when they become part of the Internet of Things. Why? Because they able to receive information from beyond their immediate environment – or, indeed, collect information from their immediate environment, transmit it elsewhere and receive tailored instructions back. Internet connectivity makes robots more intelligent.
This draws us towards the concept of the Internet of Robotic Things (IoRT), which, as reported in the IoT Times, has three key components:
- The robot in question is equipped with embedded monitoring capabilities, as well as the ability to receive data from other devices. This might mean, say, monitoring how long particular devices – whether in domestic or industrial settings – have been operating for.
- The robot can analyse data from the event it monitors, using edge computing to process that data itself. Following on from the above, this might mean calculating that a piece of equipment has been left on for an abnormally long time – like an oven in a smart home.
- The robot can determine and execute the right course of action. Again, following on from the above, the robot might be able to turn off the oven, or alert the homeowner.
Of course, these processes require artificial intelligence as well as the basic connectivity ecosystem of the IoT, but the possibilities are very exciting. Some of the most promising areas include:
- Smart homes as outlined above, but particularly in conjunction with caring for elderly or disables residents. The social care challenges associated with a growing and ageing population have been much discussed, and there is a clear role for robots in assisting not only with core caring tasks but also in keeping such individuals safer in their homes.
- Manufacturing and heavy industry. These are, of course, sectors which have long depended on robots to assist with automated, delicate or dangerous tasks. Introduce IoT connectivity into the mix and it becomes impossible to develop even more proactive, responsive and self-learning production lines.
- There is enormous potential for IoT-enabled robots to be able to assess when patients are in danger or distress, and even send robotic assistants to deliver the appropriate medication or intervention. Such robots could also be equipped with video communications so that a human medical professional can observe or interact with the patient. As with social care, the healthcare sector is grappling with the challenge of a growing and ageing population, and robots could potentially unlock a great deal of efficiency.
- Warehousing and logistics. Amazon’s warehouses have already begun down this path, with warehouse robots which can navigate independently by reading barcode stickers on the floor. They can avoid collisions with each other, pick and pack online orders – all with the help of IoT technology. Such innovations help drive logistics efficiency whilst also freeing up human resources from particularly tedious manual work.
Robots and the IoT might seem like two entirely different areas of the broader technology industry, but they can work together in some exciting and inspiring ways. Watch this space!