For most of technological history, the focus was on how to make devices communicate with humans, or how to use devices to communicate with other humans. How can we make our TV switch on, how can we make our computer run a game, how can we make the air conditioner give us the temperature we want. We used the internet to send emails to other humans, to check up on other humans on social media, to buy things from other humans.
Internet of Things is about limiting human involvement in that communication network. The internet here becomes not a network of humans connected through devices, but a network of devices talking to each other. IoT is basically a network of things capable of communicating with other things.
Robotics is also about reducing human involvement. With robotics, we develop ways to delegate human tasks to machines. Robots can assist or even replace humans in doing tasks.
So it makes sense that these disciplines can benefit from collaboration. Robotics and IoT working together are how we can actually bring the power of computing into the physical world.
What is IoRT?
Internet of Robotic Things is a field of research that describes the collaboration of the fields of Internet of Things and Robotics.
IoRT is not IoT aided by Robotics or Robotics driven by IoT- but rather an amalgamation of the disciplines. It was slowly formed as a result of realizations that the two fields had a lot of overlapping of purpose, and could greatly benefit from a focus on their combination.
Although the concept of IoT has existed for more than two decades, and robotics even longer, IoRT is a rather novel field of research. The convergence of the two areas had been gradual but the term IoRT was coined and the concept formally defined in a 2014 report.
IoRT is also supported by the fields of Edge Computing, Cloud Computing, Cloud Robotics, and AI in IoT.
IoRT is how we can create truly autonomous networks capable of carrying out complex tasks in the physical world. The ability of robotic technology to manipulate the physical world, and the capabilities of IoT to create independent and smart networks, together has great potential.
Features of IoRT
To understand what describes an IoRT system, let’s first look at the features that characterize IoT and Robotics separately.
IoT: Sensing, connectivity, communication, intelligent processing, self-learning, and scalability are some of the features of IoT. IoT networks take sensory input, perform intelligent computations, learn from the environment, communicate with users and with other devices, can be controlled from any distance via simple methods, and perform operations that produce some outcome.
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Robotics: Sensing, control, processing, acting and interacting, and motion are some of the features that define a robot. These features are present in varying scales depending on the design and build of the robot.
Robots may be capable of operating autonomously and making intelligent decisions and may collaborate with other robots. But most robots are limited to functions within their ranges of motion and focus mostly on interacting with the physical world rather than engage in digital control of systems.
One distinctive feature is that IoT devices usually don’t produce output by physical manipulation of the environment. They don’t move around and interact with the physical environment as robots do. And robots need IoT for intelligent and collaborative thinking. This is where IoRT becomes relevant.
As described by a 2017 paper and another one from 2018, the features or components of IoRT are as follows-
As IoT devices and robots, IoRT devices perceive the environment- both physical and digital- through software, sensors, and technology like RFID and GPS. “Sensing As A Service” solutions are driven by this feature of IoRT. Sensing is also required for communicating and collaborating with humans as well as with other devices.
IoRT devices perform intelligent computations using both cloud computing as well as edge computing. Sensory input is used as variables in computations and devices can actively learn from the data. IoRT has the capability to execute complex tasks with multiple variables, paths, and courses of action.
Connecting with other devices on the network, with the internet, as well as establishing communication with other devices is pivotal for the functioning of IoRT systems. Communications networks are established via the Internet, Bluetooth, wi-fi, or other systems.
Actuating means taking the action required to accomplish the purpose of a device. This may be physical manipulation or cyber action. With the integration of robotics, IoT can actually directly perform actions in the physical world.
Autonomic control is given to IoRT systems, with minimal need for human involvement. Through communication networks, IoRT based systems also have data from other devices available to them. They can learn from data, adjust their plans accordingly, and account for the variation of different variables without the need for human assistance. The human side of control can be given from any distance through any device with an interface.
Applications of IoRT
The potential applications of IoRT are plenty, as it combines applications earlier said to be the domain of IoT or robotics.
Applications of IoRT
Autonomous Supply Chain
All parts of a supply chain from the production of raw materials to the delivery systems can be automated with the help of IoRT systems.
You place an order via the website, the website sends the order over to the storage facility, where an autonomous IoRT system finds the product, packs it, labels it with all the required details, and sends it over for shipping. With the manufacturing and shipping industry also becoming increasingly automated, soon enough all our demands will be completely catered to by intelligent IoRT systems.
Precision Agriculture: IoRT can be used in precision agriculture for the targeted delivery of fertilizers, pesticides, and water. Sensors in fields detect a specific need, which is communicated to robots who deliver only the right amount of resources to the right place.
Philip Solis, research director at ABI Research, the organization credited for first naming and defining IoRT, said in an interview that precision agriculture was, in the short term, “an especially promising domain for IoRT.”
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There are so many tasks in a hospital performed by people that could easily be substituted by an intelligent robot.
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Consumer demands for IoRT personal robots are still only beginning to spread, but it has great potential in the future.
Smart Homes: Smart homes of the future would be completely managed by IoRT, with automated systems for household works, security, comfort, and convenience, all interconnected to give you a seamless experience. Robots can clean your rooms and walk your dog, and you can get live updates on their progress right from where you're lying on your bed.
Telepresence Robots: With this technology, we can attend events, classes, and meetings remotely, by sending our robots in our stead. With the whole pandemic situation, this industry is gaining even more relevance and popularity.
Physical Security and Monitoring
IoRT systems can be used to avoid risk to valuable human lives by replacing human personnel in different situations that pose threats.
Robot Guards: Guards for establishments, as well as security forces and the like, can be replaced by IoRT supported intelligent robots. They can work with camera feeds, inputs from motion sensors, etc., to ensure complete security.
Disaster Management: Any area affected by a disaster poses a great amount of risk to rescue personnel. IoRT supported robots can be used to traverse flood or earthquake ridden areas, assess the situation, transport supplies, and provide assistance to victims.
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Military Applications: There have been stories in science fiction about robot wars, where countries would deploy robot forces instead of human forces, to show power without risking millions of human lives. It isn’t far from using unmanned drone attacks for monitoring and even to eliminate terrorist cells.
Driverless cars are the future of transportation. With the widespread implementation of IoRT, cars can maintain a constant line of communication with other cars, preventing accidents, predicting traffic, and finding comfortable routes. The feedback from traffic signals and cameras can also be monitored and processed in real-time by cars to supplement this.
Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) also have applications in autonomous supply chains.
A lot of these applications also play into each other. Smart homes have elements of healthcare as well as security and monitoring in them. Security and monitoring devices, as well as automated vehicles, can be made use of in military and defence applications. But perhaps the most prevalent use nowadays is the integration of IoRT to form autonomous supply chains in e-commerce.
IoRT in Practice
Although IoRT has great potential for consumer use and may be the cornerstone of the fully automated smart homes of the future, the need to make robots economical still stands as a barrier to that. Most of the current applications of IoRT are with industrial robots. Since using IoRT to optimize supply chains can bring a lot of benefits, corporations are eager to implement those systems.
Here are some IoRT projects and use cases that have been implemented or is being actively researched-
Amazon Robotic Fulfillment Centers
Amazon has already put robots to use on a large scale in its warehouses. Amazon Robotics Fulfillment Center employs robots alongside human employees, for packing boxes, moving inventory, and other purposes. Reportedly, Amazon currently has more than 200,000 robots operating in its delivery-fulfilment centres around the US.
Chuck is an intelligent mobile robot for warehouse automation, created by 6 River Systems. It assists workers in transporting products across the warehouse. It maps zones where more work is needed to save time, moves autonomously, has mechanisms to avoid collisions, and so on.
In the area of personal robots, smart vacuum cleaners from iRobot have the potential to pave the way to automated smart homes. These are not sentient by any means but are connected to the cloud, can suggest and work through schedules, and navigate pathways.
The Growing IoRT Market
According to new reports, the global market for IoRT is growing and is expected to reach the highest compound annual growth rate by 2026. The key players in the field include Amazon, Fanuc, and iRobot. In in in
The future will witness a network of connections that extend to every device you use, from your smartwatch, your vacuum cleaner, and the lawn sprinklers, to your dog-walking robot. Every device will be learning and improving with every bit of data it consumes, and hopefully, it will all contribute to us living easier lives.