What is the Internet of Robotics Things (IoRT)?

We’re currently living in one of the most incredible, fast-paced, and epic periods of technological innovation in history. Consumer goods and services that would’ve been considered science fiction merely a few years ago are unfolding before our very eyes in ways that are almost surreal. Wi-Fi enabled cars, health-tracking wearables, augmented reality apps, or online hospitality and taxi services like Airbnb or Uber . . . you name it, the pace of technological transformation is mind-boggling. And apparently, from what many experts tell us this is just the tip of the iceberg.

The biggest buzzword in business today is “Internet of Things” – which simply put describes the process of attaching everyday objects to the Internet to send and receive data. Triggered by the confluence of new technologies such as Big Data, mobile, and cloud, along with the low-cost of sensors and the increasing ubiquity of Wi-Fi capabilities, IoT is promising to become the next big wave of technological innovation to the tune of possibly trillions of dollars of revenue in the next decade.

in 2011 as an electronic, programmable, and self-learning Wi-Fi-enabled thermostat by a former designer for Apple, the product has caught the imagination of the business world about what is possible with IoT. In fact, Nest was sold to Google in 2014 for $3.2 Billion but has kept its original name and is now leading the wave of smart home automation with other products like the Nest Cam. Many, many other consumer products are now going online, ranging from lightbulbs to refrigerators

Gartner Research estimates that IoT will comprise 25 billion objects by the year 2020. Whether it be toothbrushes or refrigerators or smart connected devices in the homes, everything is now capable of becoming a “thing” connected to the Internet that can be tracked and analyzed. Some have called this epic revolution the “Third Wave of the Internet” which may be bigger than the original creation itself. Listen to how Steve Case, co-founder and former chief executive officer and chairman of American Online (AOL), describes it in his recent book:

The Third Wave of the Internet will be defined not by the Internet of Things; it will be defined by the Internet of Everything. . . . where the Internet will be fully integrated into every part of our lives—how we learn, how we heal, how we manage our finances, how we get around, how we work, even what we eat. As the Third Wave gains momentum, every industry leader in every economic sector is at risk of being disrupted. Think about what’s been happening in Silicon Valley over the past decade and imagine what it will like when we apply that same culture of innovation and scope of ambition to every part of our economy. That’s the Third Wave—and it’s not just coming; it’s here.

Another huge part of this “Third Wave” of innovation is the field of robotics. Robotics is a broad and very interdisciplinary field encompassing computer science and the software, electrical, and mechanical engineering domains. Robots also happen to cover a broad range of applications and industries, from automotive manufacturing robots that help weld and assemble cars on an assembly line to rovers that explore the surface of Mars to humanoid service robots that are currently in wide use in Japan. There is really no uniform definition of a robot but the closest attempt is that it represents a system of sensors, control systems, manipulators, power supplies, and software all working together to perform a complex series of actions automatically.

An IoT device is often characterized as an object with a sensor that gives it the ability to send and receive data, along with some form of ambient intelligence. The Nest device mentioned earlier is one such example; it provides the end user the ability to control the thermostat remotely and also employs machine learning algorithms to adjust to her preferred temperature. Nest would be an Internet of Things device, but not be considered a robot in the traditional sense since it doesn’t include localization features.

But what happens when the same technologies of cloud, mobile, and Big Data – the undergirding tech that make IoT possible – are also aligned with robots? A couple years ago ABI Research explored this possibility in a research publication entitled “The Internet of Robotic Things.”  One of the major premise of the research is that robotic technologies should also be considered “edge devices” that expand, enhance, and align with the IoT. While Internet of Things devices are relatively passive and simple in their ability to send and receive data, robots qualify as more sophisticated forms of IoT devices; they are essentially

intelligent devices [that] can monitor events, fuse sensor data from a variety of sources, use local and distributed ‘intelligence’ to determine a best course of action, and then act to control or manipulate objects in the physical world, and in some cases while physically moving through that world.

One example of an “Internet of Robotic Things” type of device would be the Amazon Robotics mobile fulfillment unit, which is being used by the thousands to automate the picking and packing process across the company’s network of warehouses. These devices are helping Amazon become synonymous with world-class packing and shipping efficiency. Within this system, items are stored on portable storage units so that when an Amazon order is entered into the database system, the software sends a signal to the closest mobile robot to retrieve the merchandise. The mobile robots navigate around the warehouse by following a series of computerized barcode stickers on the floor of the warehouse. When the robot reaches the target location, it slides underneath the pod and lifts it off the ground through a corkscrew action. The robot then carries the pod to the specified human operator who selects the requested items. Each mobile unit is equipped with sensors so that multiple devices can be in transit within the warehouse simultaneously without colliding into each other.

Internet of Robotic Things represents an exciting but rather unknown category for discussing the expanding dimensions of the IoT industry. In this and subsequent blog posts we aim to add definition and further meaning to this exciting new domain by providing relevant information, industry trends, news items, curated content, and other useful resources that can direct players on how to strategize and gain traction in this explosive new IoT niche. Stay tuned!