Saturday, December 14. 2013
Its not often that two of the fairly unrelated areas we watch come together like this....Google has bought the military Robot maker Boston Dynamics, maker of walking robots (we first featured them in 2008 on Broadstuff) - Engagdget:
On reflection I suspect its Google trying to get a fast track on the sort of technology that will make robot cars more plausible (though why they are doing "civilian" robot cars in the first place is also a matter for some head scratching - you just know the military is going to be the first customer). But as Engagdget notes, it may be for something else far more mundane:
Or are we going to be invaded by large walking robotic billboards.....
(Hat Tip Mike Butcher)
Monday, December 2. 2013
As part of our monitoring the Internet of Flying Things, news just in that Amazon is thinking of delivery drones (see BBC video below), and its 1st of December not 1st of April
There are a few inconvenient truths for now, however:
- Most countries aviation regulation authorities are very against licencing civil/domestic non piloted drones, at best its lots of accidents waiting to happen, at worst its a snoopers charter (plus a lot of accidents waiting to happen) - and these are on the big end, one of these through your windscreen would be no joke.
Still, its a sign of the things to come. No doubt early customers will pay a lot for very fast delivery. Longer term, who needs elves and reindeer when you have robots and drones. Or Santa Claus when you have a one-click-to-buy patent and a website.
Broadstuff understands the first Amazon drones will be called Dancer, Prancer, Donner, Blitzen and Rudolf....
Friday, November 29. 2013
Internet of Things - Broadsight's simple value chain
I gave 2 talks in 2 recent conferences (its been Conference Season in November, hence blogging dearth) on developments in the Internet of Things world. One was the overall industry, one was based around open source. My overall impression from both conferences is that the Internet of Things is being held up by obfuscation and confusion - every single special interest group/alliance/manufacturer/etc is asserting they are a critical part of any solution (It was ever thus, IPTV was the same in the early 2000's for example).
Of course the market eventually sorts out who is real and who isn't, but it has the effect of making a lot of potential customers sit on their hands and wait until more clarity emerges. This is especially true with networked systems where the cost of device installation or removal is vastly more than the cost of the devices.
So in a nutshell, here is my view of the IoT state-of-play as it now stands - referring to the Broadsight "4 box model" of the IoT above:
There are a very wide variety of devices that will want to connect to this IoT, as noted in the diagram's left hand box. Many are very different to each other. There are few agreed standards for connecting devices of a similar nature, never mind those of a different type. This massively reduces the utility and increases the cost.
As above, there is such a plethora of competing technologies that don't Inter-Network easily - as one analyst pointed out to me, the industry is currently better termed "The Siloes of Things" as there is very little Internet happening if many players can avoid it.
Yet again. the aim seems to be to have as much walled gardening going on as possible. Everyone believes in standard platforms, so long as its got them in the centre. Even the open source community is not immune from this, open source does not automatically mean inter-operational end to end. Not all of this is deliberate, some is just necessary - for example, given no standard data taxonomies exist, to make workable systems people just have to get on with it and define their own.
End User Environment
Here too there is confusion, with multiple players asserting their right to be put in front of the end user, though of course many systems "end user" will be bots, decision algorithms and so on. To an extent the difficulty with defining standards upstream is due to the huge variety of end applications, all requiring very different end to end system designs.
So what might the IoT endgame be? In our view the final endgame is a set of common standards, but other industries suggets that there will be several moves in the dance before we get there. Here are some predicted steps:
1. Some siloes will take off early
There are some industry segments where the value that can be created and/or cost saved are too great to ignore, and its worth acting soon. As the only viable end to end solutions today are usually proprietary, these will be used and potentially ripped out (or hybridised) later. Diverse taxonomies will also appear (see the development of the ODI industry into multiple ODI's) at various times for various applications
2. The Open Source industry will take a long time to deliver end to end solutions
As a movement the OS advocates have extremely high creativity and ability. As an industry they they tend to operate disjointedly, building point solutions. The IoT needs highly reliable End to End solutions, and the semi anarchic nature of this industry will mean that this takes a long time - unles a major body forces the speed (cf DARPA with Inter-Networking technologies, or the EU with 2G Mobile standards) and then gives it away for free/mandates a standard
3. Some "poster child" use cases are phantoms, it will take off in unexpected areas
Two poster children are the Automated Home (see our satire on Mrs Fridge), and the Internet of Health. In our view these will be slow to take off as in the former case there is no compelling reason (its been possible for a decade, no one has really bothered) and in the latter, the issue is a combination of data confidentiality and the very severe consequences if systems are not working properly. What we expect is niche use cases - home security rather than home automation, or operating on the margins - in my opinion the "porn case" (dedicated users pushing the boundaries) in this space is coming from the Quantified Self movement, and what they drive will probably be the early Internet of Health applications.
The real early applications will, in our view, be twofold:
- Classic (Geoffrey) Moore "over the Chasm" industries - areas of high returns on any efforts; so the issues of workability, reliability, standards etc are small beer compared to the potential benefits. High value plant and processes or very large reduction is labour costs are obvious areas.
4. A Standard (or two) eventually emerge
Whether it is de Facto (a market dominance emerges, like the DOs operating system or LAMP protocols in the web space) or de Jure (a set of standards is universally adopted) remains to be seen. Looking at all teh parties jostling for position, somehow we suspect it will be de Facto.
5. Everyone will build a Middleware
Where complexity and non standardisation proliferates, then the temptation is to build a middle ware layer that just translates all the functions of disparate systems and presents them as a common UI. Only problem is, everyone wants to own the middleware layer so there will be multiple non-collaborational middlewars
6. Privacy/Hackability is going to be a major issue
There are two things that will drive this - firstly, many of the projecst mooted seem to be about building things because it is possible, rather than because it's what users/citizens/employees etc want, and these systems can impinge on privacy. Also, many of the early devices sare being built with a sort of naive assumption that just because no oane has hacked them yet (abeacuse they don't exist/there is no value etc) no one will. As any securty system expert will tell you, increasing the Internet by 50 billion odd devices increases the security risk by the same amount
In essence I think we are in for a few years of smoke, mirrors and obfuscation and if I had to bet on a first "Proper Internet" of things. it will be largely "over the top" and using as few systems as possible.
Thursday, October 10. 2013
TED talk demonstrating the effectiveness of complex algorithms on a small quadcopter's flight capability, and how it can be used collaboratively with other quadcopters and human systems to the point where advanced technology starts to look like magic.
Things you need to take away are:
(i) The processsing power is all onboard
(ii) Very powerful algorithms are the weight of the processing power
(iii) The Algorithm trupms the aeroplane. Software >> Hardware...
(iv)...once the Hardware is up to the job. This sort of onboard battery and power power wasn't around when this blog strted in 2006
(v) Hand commands for robotic devices are here, eye commands will be next.
Wednesday, February 13. 2013
Two stories on the slate:
Flying Microbots - BBC
Jumping Microbots - Physics.org
The three-legged jumping system begins life as a mold created by a 3-D printer. The robots are molded using soft silicone that allows them to stretch and flex. But where pneumatic robots are connected to tubing that pumps air, the jumping robots are connected to tubes that deliver a precisely controlled mix of methane and oxygen. Using high-voltage wires embedded in each leg of the robot, researchers deliver a spark to ignite the gases, causing a small explosion that sends the robot into the air.
Maybe HG Wells' Martian tripod fighting machines didn't so much walk as hopped
Trends to watch here: Small, soft bots in the air, meshed bots (the Internet of Flying Things) plus small controlled explosions. And print-your-own (war)bots.
Wednesday, September 26. 2012
Readers of this blog will know we are following the intersection of robotics and the internet, especially flying robots (aka the Internet Of Flying Things). News in is that Iran has built its first drone is interesting (see clip above). The Atlantic magazine notes:
But how concerned should we be about Tehran's latest toy? According to the Council on Foreign Relations' Micah Zenko -- not much. So far, he told me, Iran hasn't been able to mount precision-guided weapons on the Shahed-129 like the kind U.S. drones rely on to perform targeted killings. And even before it can attack a target, the machine has to get there -- a task made more complicated by Iran's elementary command-and-control infrastructure. Even if everything went to plan and the drone escaped detection -- an unlikely event in any case -- Iran's military would still need to keep in contact with it to operate the thing.
I think that is hubris of the highest order, frankly. The whole point of drones is thay are 2+ orders of magnitude cheaper to develop than human piloted fighting aircraft. It also shows a scary lack of the remembrance of things past. In 1914, aircraft were used for scouting and attacking enemy on the ground. By 1915 they were used to fight each other. I'd predict by 2015 we will have our first reports of drone attacks against other drones. The only other question is whether a drone will shoot down an aircraft (probably a helicopter) or another drone first
By its design (long, thin, wings) this drone is a glider, ie built for scouting, not fighting - but that is just how it started in 1914 too, and by 1916 proper fighter aircraft had arrived, in large numbers. Perish the thought that history will repeat itself here.
Monday, September 3. 2012
TacoCopter spoof startup....or is it?
The Internet of Flying things takes another step forward. Dan Shapiro's article here looks at the developments in copters:
Dan has an expanded discussion on the sorts of roles various other flying devices may have, but if you read this article in association with this one as well (allowing many bot-copters to interact via internet comms) you can see that teh Internet of Flying Things is going to be very interesting. (To summarise - in the last few years, battery power has gone up and processing and motor power/weight has gone down enough for affordable robot aircrafat to be near commodities. I'd be surprised of airforces use manned fighter aircraft in a generation)
Blend that in with the remorseless trend towards online ordering, and one wonders if we will move back to 100 years ago, where every local shop had a delivery lad on a bicycle - except now its going to be bots.
Update - this video of highly manouverable aeroplanes is a reminder that it may not go all the robocopter's way
Monday, August 6. 2012
Today, the 3rd and largest Mars exploration robot by far, Curiosity, landed on the Mars surface. It incorporates quite a lot of what was learned from the first 2, particulalrly:
A rather nice touch is the Curiosity (@MarsCuriosity - sadly, @curiosity is already someone's dog) team twittered the rover's descent, and it landed with the statement:
I'm safely on the surface of Mars. GALE CRATER I AM IN YOU!!! #MSL
I wonder if it will carry on twittering, telling us where it is day to day like Jodrell Bank does?
Apart from the excitement of getting another rover on mars, I am very interested by what it implies for robotic technology, as the overall system is at a far higher level level of complexity than what was deployed before, and is literally more complex than anything on earth. And of they can make this work on Mars, the potential is huge. This is another step forwatd for mankind, but it is truly a great leap forward for robotkind
Co-incidentally, last week I attended a talk by Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who talked a bit about the manned missions that he believes should follow this work, and be able to stay on the surface awhile. Aldrin believes that we need to do this, because it is hard, and the benefits will be greater than the moon programme. When I was growing up I read Kim Stanley Robinson's "Red Mars" as a science fiction book about Terraforming mars (albeit very well researched), but now - who knows?
(Aldrin also made some pertinent points about using a Mars Landing as a way of motivating the very best "next generation" scientists, technologsts, engineers and mathematicians to have an alternative career path to designing systems that make imaginary money move, or sell advertising to internet eyeballs)
Monday, July 30. 2012
Two videos, courtesy El Reg
1. Paper and drinking straw construction model plane dropped from edge of space
2. Model Electric motor toy expanded in size, lifts human
Juxtapose those with this....
Radical Innovation occurs by fitting new parts in new ways, seeing new patterns. I don't know what these things mean individually, but it points to a radical shift in the cost of flying devices, and that is bound to have an impact on our comms systems..
The future is all around, just unevenly distributed.....
Saturday, March 3. 2012
Those of you who follow this blog (we few....) will know we track the developments i robotics, well this video from the latest TED talks (see above) illustrates something we have talked about before - the Internet of Mobile things - but as an ex Aeronautical engineer and robotics geek, a video that puts flying robots that use A-Life principles to self-organise is geekhasm with added cream (whiopped, of course).
Watch, and gawp.
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