Drones: the Steam Engines of the Industrial Revolution 4.0

By August 6, 2021No Comments

Until recently, I had never heard the term “Fourth Industrial Revolution”.  I knew of the original Industrial Revolution, the one that started it all back in the mid 18th century.  It transformed our civilization from being agricultural to industrial, transitioned us into new manufacturing processes (most notably in textiles), and had immense implications across all of society’s functions – the economy, politics, and life as we knew it.  When most people think of the Industrial Revolution, we think of the iconic steam engine and its impact on the way the world worked.   If there is a Fourth Industrial Revolution, surely there must be a second and third.  The Second Industrial Revolution (a.k.a the Technological Revolution) lasted from about the late 1800s to around the First World War.  It improved the daily lives of the average person through advancements in things we take for granted today – medicines, food storage, etc.  It also saw the rise of globalization through expanded large-scale railroad networks and new technologies such as telegraph systems and telephones, electrical power, and mass production through the assembly line.  The Third Industrial Revolution seems to be a bit murky in terms of agreement on sociological descriptors and key indicators.  However, it can be acknowledged for: the emergence of a sharing economy, advances in nuclear energy and other green power, biotechnology, microprocessors, the internet and the Internet of Things (IoT), as well as the digitization of everything.  Enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a.k.a Industrial Revolution 4.0 or 4IR.  In a complete shift away from the First Industrial Revolution’s mechanization, the 4IR builds on the advances of the Third Industrial Revolution through a strong push toward automation within existing systems and even the creation of entirely new systems altogether.  The origin of the 4IR concept is usually credited to Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum, who wrote about it in a book in 2016; however, others recognize Wolfgang Wahlster, a scholar of Hamburg University, for introducing the term in 2011 at a German trade show.  According to Schwab, this “technological revolution will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one-another”.  It is characterized by the exponential advancement in the sciences and its implications on society and daily life, which include: big data, Artificial Intelligence (AI), 3d printing/additive manufacturing, biotechnology, the IoT and Internet of Everything (IoE), Block Chain and Distributed Ledger Technology, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and automated vehicles, and this is not even an exhaustive list.  Many of these concepts appear to be progressively overlapping to optimize their function, such as IoE, an apparent combination of machine-learning AI, RPA and IoT, or drones, which can combine RPA, IoT or IoE, 3d printing and potentially more.  Opportunities are endless.

The Terminator Movie Poster, 1984

For the economy to keep up with this unprecedented rate of technological evolution, we must adapt to the rapidly changing world around us.  Businesses need to take advantage of the technology as it changes, and take on and overlap concepts (like IoE) as much as possible to streamline our operations.  We need to work smarter, not harder.  Despite the promise of making work safer and more efficient, as well as the need to adopt new technology to stay relevant, there are some hurdles left and pushback against its acceptance.  What is the issue, you may ask? Society’s mentality and negative perception that robots will take away our jobs.  We can likely thank creative post-apocalyptic cinema for that.  The digitization of many tasks will be taken over by RPA, this is true.  But what is RPA?  Robotic Process Automation is not physical or mechanical, and does not involve any physical robot of any kind; it is a digital automation of already existing processes.  For example, an employee types information into a data sheet, analyzes it, exports specific parts to other employees, etc., and it takes the entire day.  These mundane, repetitive (and, let’s face it – boring) tasks can actually be automated.  The benefits of adoption are clear: create capacity from day one, minimize disruption to the team, redeploy employees to higher-value tasks, and the RPA itself generates its own audit trail, which saves huge amounts of time/energy/money.  It is much faster, eliminates mistakes and bias, and frees up employee time for more cognitive, engaging tasks.  And it is scalable.  So why are people worried?

The AAT-1200 Thunderbolt picking up a backyard package.

Some may still be skeptical.  Overcoming employee resistance will involve work from the employer in eliminating existing skills gaps and taking the time to educate the employees about what the potential benefits might actually be.  People hear about futuristic technology and immediately assume that it is beyond their grasp – that these new technologies will be accessible only through a rocket science PhD.  RPAs don’t interfere with existing systems or business applications, and should not require lots of integration work.  To get there, however, the employer has to properly train the team to implement and effectively use the software.  Keep in mind – RPAs have absolutely no brain or cognitive function – even though they can learn processes, the processes must first be standardized so that the machine can be instructed to do the mundane, repetitive tasks.  For an RPA to work, it has to be given clearly defined inputs and outputs, and a repeatable rule-based process that is either repeated regularly or have some kind of trigger.  They have to be told what to do.  In other words, they still need humans so that they can function – we have a brain, RPAs don’t.  But they will help us improve productivity across a wide range of people and business functions, and advance the organization’s digital transformation efforts so that we can go focus on more interesting stuff.

RPA and drones are a pivotal piece of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.  Like the steam engine of the First Industrial Revolution, drones have the capability to shape our future.  Particularly when used together, RPA and drones optimize workflows within business.  For example, at Aurora Aerial, we produce not only our state-of-the-art drone hardware, such as our AAT-1200 Thunderbolt, but have also developed an agnostic software GCS system that we call Perun, named after the ancient Slavic god of thunder, lightening, and the sky.  Together they create a fully-encapsulated drone system that the user can trust; once given the directions, the RPA knows how to control the drone and account for obstacles such as wind or buildings without the interference of the user (unless they so choose).  This combination of technological advancements will transform our approach to delivery, medical/emergencies, and surveying, support better communications connectivity, help society become greener, and protect workers from being in dangerous situations by creating safer environments (among other things).  Drones will ultimately change our cities’ infrastructures and business operations as we know them.

The AAT-1200 Thunderbolt delivering a package to someone’s doorstep.

How do drones and RPA work together?  RPAs are platforms that orchestrate the drone’s movements.  This is especially vital in the use of BVLOS – when a drone flies Beyond the Visual Line of Sight.  Before BVLOS, drones were limited by the pilot’s ability to see them so that they could be controlled manually.  Limitations included distance, trees, buildings, fog, or any other obstacle that would block the view.  Considered cutting-edge technology, BVLOS now allows drones to fly autonomously; in other words, a pilot is no longer limited by their ability to see the drone, nor must they rely on manual control.  Aurora Aerial’s Ground Control System (GCS), Perun, does just that.  You type in the destination and waypoints, and it does the rest because it knows what to do.  It gets even more interesting when we fly in swarms (multiple drones at once off of one GCS).  Connect, Control, Fly.  Have a coffee.

So what are the implications for this kind of technology? The potential uses are infinite.  Aurora Aerial has a few things on the go.  Imagine calling 911 for a heart-attack emergency and having an AED and supplies sent to you within just one perilous minute.  We’re working toward creating a specialized emergency system that can save lives.  This system will also have the capacity to carry time-sensitive, delicate payloads, such as bio samples and vaccines between clinics and medical professionals.

Aurora Aerial drone flying medical supplies

We also currently have a contract with Indro to patrol hydro lines as part of a maintenance and detection program.  This will save time, money, and significant amounts of carbon emissions that would normally result with the conventional maintenance and detection method – flying an airplane.  We are further looking to replace expensive airplanes in agriculture (seeds, spraying, etc.).  Lastly, we are championing last-mile delivery.  Instead of people manually performing tasks such as sorting or fulfilling deliveries by going to each house separately, our software, Perun, allows the driver to stop at the end of a street and send 5 different drones in 5 different directions, all at the push of a button.  Our drones help employees fulfill their deliveries more efficiently than ever before – just scan and deliver with our partners at GoFor.  You’ll notice that in each scenario I had mentioned, employees are still required to operate the systems – they just need to develop new skills.

We are in the Industrial Revolution 4.0 and it is just the beginning.  While the technology may initially seem daunting, the benefits will be seen over time and are eventually going to become commonplace.  What will help businesses adopt drone technology is to create an easy path toward integration into their already existing workflows, and to make training and use as seamless and easy as is possible.  Aurora Aerial’s Perun, for example, is designed to not only easily integrate, but has an intuitive user interface that is effortless to use.  Barriers to business adoption drop when processes become more efficient, safer and easier without having to implement changes to workflows or employee tenure; the same things get done at work with the same people, but they happen faster and easier than ever.  Employers, employees, customers, and nearly any stakeholder will find some kind of benefit in this adoption.  Click to order something online and have it delivered within an hour? Yes, please.  Respond to emergencies faster than ever before? They’re heroes! Significantly reduce traffic congestion in the streets? I can feel the fresh air now.  Although that may seem like it is in the distant future, it is not as far away as you would think.  Drones are already making an impact and the technology is moving faster than regulators are able to keep up.  At this exponentially accelerating rate, it’s likely that the near future would have seemed like a scifi movie even 10 years ago.  Truly, the future is now and autonomous drones are at its forefront.  Soon enough, we will take these advancements for granted, just like we had with breakthroughs of the last three Industrial Revolutions.

18th Century Steam Engine

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