“Thinking” computers have a technology phenomenon this year, at least in the trade press. What does this all mean for real people and when? Is it just a fad? After all, we got excited about using drones to deliver sofas by air a couple of years back and the best they seem to have done is become a plaything.
The reality is that automation has been creeping into business for two or three decades, usually in the form of smart, but fixed, assembly stations. These systems can’t think for themselves, though, and that is where this next wave of robotics differs. These realities will re-shape the products that electronics OEMs make and sell, but also will change the supply chain used in the manufacturing process itself.
Although some technologies haven’t hit real-world use as quickly as we might have hoped, a peek into the future shows some notable potential for a whole new world of capabilities based on the gee whiz technologies of today. Really powerful smarts have gotten much cheaper in the last few years, both in hardware and software, so that the economics are making many new use cases possible. Let’s look at a few.
The most profound change impacting carbon-based lifeforms is going to be in travel. Big-city folk, and there are many of us, are tired of slow commutes and the stress of driving. We are going to welcome self-driving cars with open hands. Now, while the early adopter stage we are in means that today’s self-driving cars are just four-door sedans with a computer for driver, the near future of the technology is going to be much more.
Image courtesy: Waymo
Pressure to be “green” means the ideal commuter car will be a single-seat electric unit. Tiny in comparison to today’s vehicles, these will still be very safe and very comfortable but they will yield around 150 miles per charge, which is plenty for most daily driving. The impact on traffic will (eventually) be dramatic. four-lane freeways can have six lanes or more, while the distance between vehicles and the amount of road taken by them will be more than halved.
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Effectively freeways become twice as big or more. Another benefit of the self-driving car is that traffic flows will optimize. First, the gawkers’ blocks will go away and much of the uneven flow in traffic will disappear. Another benefit is that macroscopic traffic management such as rerouting around heavy traffic or accidents can be handled by cloud-based apps. The flip side of all of this is that speeding and erratic driving will be a thing of the past.