Robotics in the Cloud

Anthony Melanson  -  Aug 24, 2016

Public and private cloud use is commonplace, with nearly every Tom, Dick and Mary enterprise utilizing cloud services for data storage.  But what about robotics?

The enormous storage capabilities of hosted IT services provided the early motivation for businesses to move from in-house storage to the cloud.   Software applications followed suit and now a large percentage of software solutions are deployed via the cloud.

However, cloud robotics remains an emerging field.  Since robotics are rooted in software systems there is a natural synergy that links the physical capabilities of the robot with its controls and “intelligence” based on the software it is running.   And with the cloud, other real-time connections to the robot can be made to enhance its capabilities – a topic we will explore later in this blog posting.

Data Storage

According to Cloud Storage Market by Solutions Global Forecast and Analysis to 2020, the global cloud storage market is expected to grow from $18.87 Billion in 2015 to $65.41 Billion by 2020, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate of 28.2% during the forecast period. TechTarget reports that cost savings and efficiencies are responsible for much of this growth.

“Few technologies have affected the IT industry as profoundly as cloud computing,” says Senior Technology Editor Stephen Bigelow. “Part of cloud’s appeal is clearly financial; it allows organizations to shed at least some of their expensive IT infrastructure and shift computing costs to more manageable operational expenses.” Dramatic improvements in data transfer rates in recent years have made cloud storage increasingly practical for many organizations.

Business Intelligence

Data alone isn’t enough. Companies are demanding (and getting) real-time business intelligence (BI) solutions. In the past few years these were traditionally on-premises solutions but they are now shifting to the cloud making them more affordable and more scalable. In fact, the cloud based BI market is projected to grow to $2.94B by 2018. In the Business 2 Community article “Benefits of Cloud Based BI for Manufacturers,” near real-time decision making and increased productivity are two key benefits now available through the cloud.  These business intelligence solutions are often close cousins to Big Data – an often used but highly generalizable term.

Robotics Enters the Cloud

shutterstock_270601862_579613d7f31d2In a recent ZDnet post, Bob Violino poses and answers the question: “What happens when you mix cloud computing with robotics? You get more powerful and smarter robots capable of communicating and collaborating with each other and learning from each others’ mistakes so that they can accomplish a variety of tasks more effectively.”

Some manufacturers are just now leveraging the power of the cloud to facilitate this process of storing streamed sensor data for analysis and learning. In The Robot Report, Frank Tobe reports on growing interest in cloud based deep learning.  He says, “Kuka, ABB and FANUC — as are most robot makers — are late to the A.I. and deep learning party, but still very welcomed.”

He highlights Aethon as a pioneer in the field, with the launch of the patented Cloud Command Center in 2006.  He points out that Aethon was one of the first to leverage the cloud to provide enhanced support and monitoring of TUG robots throughout customer facilities. With the patented Cloud Command Center,  Aethon is able to remotely monitor, support and even control the autonomous mobile robots 24/7/365.

“In any dynamic environment where mobile robots are operating, situations can arise where the robot needs additional information or support.  explains Aldo Zini, CEO of Aethon. “Rather than rely on customer personnel to address this, we provide this support to them. Algorithms monitor the status of each TUG in real-time and when necessary, an alert is sent to a support staff in our central command center.  They connect to the TUG over the cloud via a secure internet connection and utilize the robot’s onboard sensors and self-diagnostics to assess the situation.  They can even manually drive the TUG and navigate it through the facility if necessary. Ninety-seven percent of the time, no on-site support is needed. ”

Further, the connection between the TUG robot and the cloud provides a deep data source of productivity information that customers leverage to optimize their operation.  This data provides unique and often unprecedented insight related to their internal logistics.  This is yet another difference between Aethon’s autonomous mobile robot and AGV robots.

In the spirit of the 1979 Florida Orange Growers commercial campaign, “Orange Juice:  It’s not just for breakfast anymore,” the cloud is certainly not just for storage anymore. Cloud robotics and automation are changing how businesses view and use the cloud.