Not only is industrial automation still rapidly growing, but the enabling technologies of robotics, artificial intelligence, and the cloud are contributing to a new wave of excitement among innovators, investors, and most importantly, business users. Tend.ai CEO Mark Silliman will be addressing this intelligent manufacturing convergence at RoboBusiness 2017, which will be held in Santa Clara, Calif., on Sept. 27 and 28.
Silliman has been the CEO of three previous tech startups, including a successful exit in December, 2015. He has been involved in the robotic development community for more than five years. Here, Silliman describes how technology is reshaping intelligent manufacturing, providing a preview of his session on “What Do Big Data, IoT, and the Cloud Mean for Robotics Use?”
What got you interested in robotics and AI, and how is it connected to what you’re now doing?
I’ve always been fascinated with the field of robotics – not just from an academic or intellectual perspective, but also a practical, real-world one. I am definitely the type of person who likes to get his hands on new technologies and experiment with how they work, what they can do, and how they can be improved upon. As a result, I’ve found myself tinkering with robotics, both personally and professionally, for over a decade.
The mechanics of robotics have undergone major advancements in the last decade to make them safer and easier to work with. And now, artificial intelligence is one of the most important emerging technology fields at our disposal to build upon that user-friendliness and make robots even more capable and useful to us.
With AI, it’s less about what a robot can mechanically do and more about how it can interact with people and its environment to become more valuable, and that’s what excites me the most. We are entering a new frontier in robotic innovation where software becomes the game-changer, and that’s largely what inspired me to create Tend.
Which emerging technology supporting intelligent manufacturing excites you the most?
I have quite a few, so it’s hard to narrow it down to just one. Advancements in vision are enabling new applications in all categories of automation. AI and its ability to enable robots to adapt and respond without human intervention is creating new opportunities everywhere. Cloud-based computing, even though it’s been around for a while, is just starting to become recognized as the game-changer it is.
For me, it’s really a matter of what the combination of these technologies can do when delivered in a meaningful way, and that’s what drives our company every day.
What are the biggest barriers to continued growth of the autonomous systems market?
From a practical standpoint, environmental variability has always been the No. 1 obstacle of autonomous systems. The larger and more complex the environment, the more variables are introduced that a system needs to respond to.
The advancement of an AI engine that can help overcome this variability, as well as a wireless network that is capable enough to manage and respond to those real-time decisions, will make all the difference for autonomous systems. We are definitely headed in that direction, but much work needs to be done.
Where do you expect robotics and AI use to grow the most in the next five years, and why?
We see the biggest short-term opportunities throughout the discrete manufacturing space. We’re seeing a perfect storm right now of industry growth (more need for intelligent manufacturing), labor shortages (fewer available/willing people to do those jobs), and technology advancements that are helping to fill those needs in new and cost-effective ways.
What do you think your intelligent manufacturing session offers to the robotics developer and end-user community?
My session is designed to help attendees de-mystify what these concepts mean and why there’s so much buzz about their potential. Tend’s mission as a company is to make smart manufacturing simple for companies of all sizes.
I hope to demonstrate in our session why these technology fields are not just for academics and Fortune 100 manufacturers to pursue in the future, but are also available now in applications that can help small and midsized businesses make a practical difference today.
What are you most looking forward to about being at RoboBusiness?
RoboBusiness brings together a great mix of industry experts, solution providers, business/trade media, and end users. It’s big enough to justify our sponsorship and participation costs, while small enough for us to have meaningful conversations with attendees. The environment encourages the discovery of new technologies and ideas, and we’re excited to be a significant part of that.