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$100bn robotics opportunity

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Since the first robot went into operation in 1961, the use of them has evolved from motor plants to other industries like the semiconductor area. DR JON HARROP believes the their use will continue to grow into a $100bn industry.

The first industrial robot, Unimate, went into operation at a General Motors plant in 1961. Over the next few decades the use of industrial robot arms in the automotive industry matured. More recently, the use of industrial robot arms in the cleanroom environments of the semiconductor and electronics industries also matured. The market for such traditional industrial robots is now worth around $11bn and continues to grow slowly. The technology is largely unchanged with modern industrial robot arms generally employing minimal sensors and no real intelligence. But a revolution is coming, as detailed in “Robotics 2016-2026”, the brand new report by IDTechEx Research which explores the future of robotics, applications, technologies and markets.

A variety of independent technological advances in batteries, power electronics, motors, sensors, processors, artificial intelligence and other fields are now creating an environment where robotics can finally surge ahead in many different ways, solving a wide variety of problems that traditional industrial robots could not possibly have solved. The single biggest trend will be mobile robotics. Over the next decade the statically-mounted robots of today will become a minority as next generation robots travel across the ground, in the air and even across oceans and in space. Autonomous unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) will transfer goods not only within warehouses but down highways alongside conventional passenger vehicles and around mines and quarries with only minimal human intervention as well as harvesting crops and mowing our lawns. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will bring internet access to millions of people in remote locations, bring emergency medical attention to those in need and monitor and dust our crops. Autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) will be used to mine the ocean floors for precious minerals and coast guards around the world will employ autonomous robotic lifeboats for search and rescue.

Although mobile robots will be the single biggest trend, static robots will still continue to evolve. Surgical robots have already made inroads in some specific laparoscopic procedures but many companies are bringing more surgical robots to market for different kinds of operations. The worldwide push for STEM education has robotics as a core topic. What were expensive high-end machines a few decades ago will be modularised into interoperable parts (joints, end effectors and so on) and commoditized as they are mass produced cheaply in East Asia. This will make robotics affordable for everyone, facilitating the teaching of robotics in schools and the development of next-generation robots by hobbyists.

Societal megatrends will play into robotics. The ageing population will benefit not only from surgical robots, lab robots for medicine and robotically-manufactured replacement bionic parts but also service robots designed to help the elderly at home. Everyone will benefit from personal robots that vacuum the house, mow the lawn, clean the pool and automate other mundane tasks such as cleaning the BBQ grill.

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Many robots will serve multiple functions. Internet-enabled robotic vacuum cleaners for the home are already being empowered with security responsibilities as they are able to photograph unusual changes in the home, such as an intruder, and send the images to the home owner.

All of these sectors in robotics will grow to overshadow traditional industrial robot arms. Over the next 10 years we expect the worldwide market for robots to reach over $120bn. Some of these sectors will grow much more quickly than others and some will grow only at specific times. For more information see the brand new IDTechEx Research report “Robotics 2016-2026” at www.IDTechEx.com/robotics.

* Dr Jon Harrop, Director, IDTechEx

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IoT sensors are anything from doctor to canary in mines

Industrial IoT is changing the shape of the mining industry and the intelligence of the devices that drive it

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The Internet of Things (IoT) has become many things in the mining industry. A canary that uses sensors to monitor underground air quality, a medic that monitors healthcare, a security guard that’s constantly on guard, and underground mobile vehicle control. It has evolved from the simple connectivity of essential sensors to devices into an ecosystem of indispensable tools and solutions that redefine how mining manages people, productivity and compliance. According to Karien Bornheim, CEO of Footprint Africa Business Solutions (FABS), IoT offers an integrated business solution that can deliver long-term, strategic benefits to the mining industry.

“To fully harness the business potential of IoT, the mining sector has to understand precisely how it can add value,” she adds. “IoT needs to be implemented across the entire value chain in order to deliver fully optimised, relevant and turnkey operational solutions. It doesn’t matter how large the project is, or how complex, what matters is that it is done in line with business strategy and with a clear focus.”

Over the past few years, mining organisations have deployed emerging technologies to help bolster flagging profits, manage increasingly weighty compliance requirements, and reduce overheads. These technologies are finding a foothold in an industry that faces far more complexities around employee wellbeing and safety than many others, and that juggles numerous moving parts to achieve output and performance on a par with competitive standards. Already, these technologies have allowed mines to fundamentally change worker safety protocols and improve working conditions. They have also provided mining companies with the ability to embed solutions into legacy platforms, allowing for sensors and IoT to pull them into a connected net that delivers results.

“The key to achieving results with any IoT or technology project is to partner with service providers, not just shove solutions into identified gaps,” says Bornheim. “You need to start in the conceptual stage and move through the pre-feasibility and bankable feasibility stages before you start the implementation. Work with trained and qualified chemical, metallurgical, mechanical, electrical, instrumentation and structural engineers that form a team led by a qualified engineering lead with experience in project management. This is the only way to ensure that every aspect of the project is aligned with the industry and its highly demanding specifications.”

Mining not only has complexities in compliance and health and safety, but the market has become saturated, difficult and mercurial. For organisations to thrive, they must find new revenue streams and innovate the ways in which they do business. This is where the data delivered by IoT sensors and devices can really transform the bottom line. If translated, analysed and used correctly, the data can provide insights that allow for the executive to make informed decisions about sites, investment and potential.


“The cross-pollination of different data sets from across different sites can help shift dynamics in plant operation and maintenance, in the execution of specific tasks, and so much more,” says Bornheim. “In addition, with sensors and connected devices and systems, mining operations can be managed intelligently to ensure the best results from equipment and people.”

The connection of the physical world to the digital is not new. Many of the applications currently being used or presented to the mining industry are not new either. What’s new is how these solutions are being implemented and the ways in which they are defined. It’s more than sticking on sensors. It’s using these sensors to streamline business across buildings, roads, vehicles, equipment, and sites. These sensors and the ways in which they are used or where they are installed can be customised to suit specific business requirements.

“With qualified electronic engineers and software experts, you can design a vast array of solutions to meet the real needs of your business,” says Bornheim. “Our engineers can programme, create, migrate and integrate embedded IoT solutions for microcontrollers, sensors, and processors. They can also develop intuitive dashboards and human-machine interfaces for IoT and machine-to-machine (M2M) devices to manage the input and output of a wide range of functionalities.”

The benefits of IoT lie in its ubiquity. It can be used in tandem with artificial intelligence or machine learning systems to enhance analytics, improve the automation of basic processes and monitor systems and equipment for faults. It can be used alongside M2M applications to enhance the results and the outcomes of the systems and their roles. And it can be used to improve collaboration and communication between man, machine and mine.

“You can use IoT platforms to visualise mission-critical data for device monitoring, remote control, alerts, security management, health and safety and healthcare,” concludes Bornheim. “The sky is genuinely the limit, especially now that the cost of sensors has come down and the intelligence of solutions and applications has gone up. From real-time insights to hands-on security and safety alerts to data that changes business direction and focus, IoT brings a myriad of benefits to the table.”

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Oracle leads in clash of
e-commerce titans

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Three e-commerce platforms have been awarded “gold medals” for leading the way in customer experience. SoftwareReviews, a division of Info-Tech Research Group, named Oracle Commerce Cloud the leader in its 2020 eCommerce Data Quadrant Awards, followed by Shopify Plus and IBM Digital Commerce. The awards are based on user reviews. 
The three vendors received the following citations:

  • Oracle Commerce Cloud ranked highest among software users, earning the number-one spot in many of the product feature section areas, shining brightest in reporting and analytics, predictive recommendations, order management, and integrated search. 
  • Shopify Plus performed consistently well according to users, taking the number-one spot for catalogue management, shopping cart management and ease of customisation.
  • IBM Digital Commerce did exceptionally well in business value created, quality of features, and vendor support.

The SoftwareReviews Data Quadrant differentiates itself with insightful survey questions, backed by 22 years of research in IT. The study involves gathering intelligence on user satisfaction with both product features and experience with the vendor. When distilled, the customer’s experience is shaped by both the software interface and relationship with the vendor. Evaluating enterprise software along these two dimensions provides a comprehensive understanding of the product in its entirety and helps identify vendors that can deliver on both for the complete software experience.

“Our recent Data Quadrant in e-commerce solutions provides a compelling snapshot of the most popular enterprise-ready players, and can help you make an informed, data-driven selection of an e-commerce platform that will exceed your expectations,” says Ben Dickie, research director at Info-Tech Research Group. 

“Having a dedicated e-commerce platform is where the rubber hits the road in transacting with your customers through digital channels. These platforms provide an indispensable array of features, from product catalog and cart management to payment processing to detailed transaction analytics.”

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