Last week I attended the Robotics Showcase at the IET in London to join the debate on the current state of commercial robotics. My main takeaway from the event was that, whilst fully autonomous robots are getting a lot of interest, they are still a little way off being put into use as commercial robots.
There is some great work being done by a range of universities and businesses to develop autonomous abilities and these will be integrated into a range of industrial applications over the coming few years. However, the applications which are closest to market are at a lower level of autonomy in which smart machines – controlled or coordinated by humans – are starting to add real commercial value now. Good examples on show include a jet engine maintenance robot from Rolls Royce, and a telemedicine robot from Intouch Health. Both of these are remotely controlled extensions to allow a skilled human operator to be more productive.
Prof Guang-Zhong Yang of Imperial College London University presented a view of how the concept of “Levels of Autonomy” could be applied to surgical robotics.
The idea of “Levels of Autonomy” has been a popular discussion in the autonomous car ecosystem for a while, with Level 0 being a fully manual car and Level 5 being fully autonomous. Cars are available today offering features at the lower levels of the scale such as adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping. The UK startup, FiveAI is named to indicate its ambition to shoot for “Level Five” autonomous driving, but their efforts – along with Uber, Google, Apple and a host of car OEMs – are some way off commercial reality. The idea of Levels of Autonomy seems to be a good framework in which to identify what capabilities we can deploy into commercial robotics today for a whole host of applications on the path towards “Level Five”.
This idea fits really well with our own view that smart machines can be developed and deployed today to provide productivity gains or to enable new services in support of humans. We help companies navigate this seemingly complex path of commercial robotics – starting with new machines which give rapid payback and provide a platform to evolve towards increasing levels of capability or autonomy. The key is to ensure that each increment of autonomy and performance adds real commercial benefit – that’s what makes a true “commercial robot”.
No matter what stage of the autonomy game you’re at – we can help. Get in touch to talk about how we can help you to navigate the path of commercial robots, starting with rapid payback, today.
Author: Tim Ensor – Chief Commercial Officer. You can contact Tim at: Tim.Ensor@Tharsus.co.uk
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