16 November 2018

The weird and wonderful

The term ‘autonomous’ is so much more than a car that can drive itself. However, when we hear the word, we automatically limit ourselves to this idea. And, I don’t blame you. I do too.

There are also many other industries that are looking into autonomous software to create new solutions to long-term problems. Autonomous technology can help with many of society’s biggest problems, such as clearing paths in bad weather conditions, mapping large open areas such as the ocean and even saving lives in the aftermath of natural disasters.

So, this week, I want to dive into the weird and wonderful of autonomous technology. I’ve always kept an eye out for the less-conventional innovations that aren’t necessarily focused on, as you never know when it might come in handy. Technology is spreading across each and every industry, so it is important to monitor it all in order to understand what direction the world is going in. For example, something that I took great interest in recently was wind and solar-powered autonomous surface vehicles - called Saildrones - which are a cost-effective solution that collects ocean data on a massive scale. The company, run by Richard Jenkins, is working towards the world’s biggest high-resolution ocean datasets, alongside governments and private companies around the globe. Through utilising autonomous technology, these unmanned vessels are designed for long range, long duration collection missions of up to 12 months; something which would be next to impossible for multiple human-controlled ships to do.

This example alone illustrates the sheer magnitude of connected software, which reaches all walks of life, from million-dollar research ventures to, well, £10 food deliveries with the likes of Uber Eats and Pizza Hut. This may sound strange, but even the takeaway industry will be disrupted due to autonomous technology, whether that is self-driving vehicles or small pods and drones that bring you your food. These delivery vehicles will be able to navigate sidewalks, people and traffic to make the last mile delivery to a customer much easier than the conventional processes used today. Unsurprisingly, this will be a welcomed addition for students around the world.

When talking about a technology that many have referred to as ‘out-of-this-world’, the potential of autonomous software has no limit. In fact, this software is already being used far away from the earth, through space probes that are able to collect surface samples from different planets. Currently, NASA is trying to figure out how to configure AI to create autonomous space probes that can operate light-years away from our planet. Research suggests that these probes could reach as far as Alpha Centauri, which is a whopping 4.24 light-years away from Earth. It would be simply impossible for the same group of scientists to wait for the drone to land that far away and start to collect the data gathered. So, by giving the robot a mind of its own, it can get to work automatically and eliminate the decision-making processes back on earth.

I could fill the next 10 issues of New Mobility Visions with the different autonomous innovations on the horizon, but the overall message here is clear. These wide-ranging examples show just how effective and important this technology will be across multiple industries, changing the way we operate. Prepare for the biggest change in human history.

Alex Kreetzer

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