Autonomous Technologies to Power Tomorrow’s Enterprises
A very simple example of automation are traffic signals. Earlier policemen controlled the flow of traffic, now we have automated traffic lights that change colors at regular intervals to do the same. If we add cameras to these lights, so that they could ‘see’ the real-time traffic conditions and change colors based on the volume of vehicular movement, it would become autonomous.
Automation is about using technology to monitor, control and/or operate any process or function with accuracy and efficiency without human intervention. Autonomous technology is about enriching automated systems with sensors, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and analytical capabilities so that they could make independent decisions based on the data they collect.
Let’s understand what impact this technology will have on industries and our daily lives? At present, enterprises in sectors such as automotive, manufacturing, mining and utilities, have been especially effective at using autonomous technologies to achieve greater efficiency, safety and to achieve sustainability.
Several factors have contributed to the rise of autonomous technologies. First, the role of technology itself has evolved. It is no longer seen merely as a tool to do things faster, better and more efficiently. Instead, it has disrupted and transformed everything that we do. Also, the rise of allied technologies, whether advanced sensor, communication, Machine Learning (ML), AI, or cloud, has given impetus to autonomous technologies.
Let’s take mining as an example. Given the inherently risky nature of the industry, it has been using technologies to connect mining assets to a central location for automation, control and remote operation even in the past. Today, we’re seeing the growing prevalence of fully integrated and highly automated mining operations. Autonomous technologies can significantly increase productivity at enterprises by substantially improving Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE), reduce costs, improve overall safety and drive environmental sustainability in the mining industry. Therefore, we can expect to see smart autonomous and cognitive systems supported by other digital technologies like digital twins, Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) applications in the mining industry. Not surprisingly, the mining automation market is expected to grow from USD 2.22 Billion in 2017 to USD 3.29 Billion by 2023 according to a distinguished market research company.
Enterprises in the automotive industry are expected to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of autonomous technologies. The applications in automotive are varied, ranging from automating basic testing functions to reduce defects and streamline processes to implementing detection and decision systems that imitate natural human reflex with intelligent telematics to help address concerns around human error and reaction times. Autonomous vehicles can better use information generated by the vehicle to vehicle/infrastructure (V2X) infrastructure in the vehicle to bring greater situation awareness and decision making. Fleets of autonomous vehicles can eliminate the need for car ownership while reducing idle time.
In manufacturing too, automotive technologies have the potential to accelerate manufacturers’ journey towards Industry 4.0. They can address the challenge of short product lead times and competitive costing through digitization. Visual analytics blended with AI and IoT can automate the supply chain and make it more effective. Autonomous technologies can help address safety challenges due to human error through industrial collaborative robots. They allow for greater product personalization at scale, by making small batch manufacturing more economical, using AI for dynamically reconfigurable and self-correcting systems. Similarly, there are several use cases in other industry sectors too like utilities, power, oil & gas etc. Robots and drones are being used in these industries which collect huge amounts of visuals and other sensor data to understand and automate processes, predict the future and adapt to complex environments.
Evaluating Advantages and Roadblocks
Before rushing headlong into implementing autonomous technologies, it is important that organizations first evaluate the solutions to understand where and how they can be implemented and how they can be beneficial. They need to also define the future roadmap and evaluate feasibility in terms of cost, scalability, interoperability of solutions etc.
Here are some points that organizations must consider when they implement autonomous technologies.
Take a Strategic Approach
Organizations often take a very narrow view and seek quick-fix tactical solutions when it comes to adoption of autonomous technologies. To derive optimum benefit from these technologies, however, they need to be viewed through the lens of overall organizational strategy. Taking an end-to-end approach can help create certain process synergies that simply cannot materialize through point solutions.
Identify Your Unique Challenges
Each organization has some unique challenges that respond well to autonomous technologies. These are governed by factors such as organizational readiness, competitive landscape and nature of operations. Trying to force-fit a ready solution to address these challenges can be counterproductive. Therefore, it often makes sense for an organization to design and implement a unique solution that is tailored to address its needs.
Find the Right Partner
Given the highly specialized and often complex nature of autonomous technologies, finding a good partner for implementation is highly recommended. Organizations should look for a good engineering partner with proven technology and sector expertise, extensive experience and demonstrable case studies and Proofs of Concept (POCs). These can play a big role in determining the success of the implementation.
Technology is always in a state of flux. Autonomous technologies, especially, have been evolving rapidly in recent years. Therefore, it is impossible to ever consider an implementation as complete, because the goal post is shifting constantly. Constant evaluation of the technological as well as competitive landscape is important in order to maintain differentiation. Besides, organizations also need to be on top of ever-changing compliance and regulatory requirements.
In today’s dynamic technology landscape, it is the companies that make the right technology investments that have the edge. Autonomous technologies have the potential to bring massive transformation and benefits across industries, given the rate at which they are developing. If organizations are really serious about staying at the top, embracing autonomous technologies, along with other blockbusters such as IoT, ML, AI , AR, VR etc. is extremely critical.
The technologies are here to stay, but how one chooses to engage with them will determine future success.