June 16, 2017      

Robotics advances now involve business strategies and partnerships as much as new technologies. From drone inspections to drone deliveries, global companies are aggressively adopting automation. At the same time, cyber security fears and geopolitics require careful application of AI and IoT.

Robotics Business Review has partnered with me to bring you this roundup of the latest robotics and artificial intelligence developments from around the world. Are you ready to be updated?

GE gets to work with robots

General Electric has unveiled plans to deploy autonomous systems such as aerial drones and underwater robots to inspect railroads, oil refineries, and more. As these robots monitor physical changes, GE will use AI to understand gas readings and other data.

GE is investing heavily in robotics advances.

As one of the largest companies in the world, Boston-based GE’s move is significant because it’s now one of the world’s largest robotics companies.

At the same time, offerings from large vendors such as Intel and GE can give utility companies more peace of mind regarding long-term support and sustainability of drone inspections. This removes people from dangerous field work and is an example of robotics as a service (RaaS).

In addition, the entire robotics industry should note that future competition won’t necessarily come from expected avenues. As automation becomes a driving force for economic growth, companies that have traditionally had nothing to do with robotics advances could suddenly be leading the industry.

Cyber security warning sounded for robots, IoT

The issue of Internet of Things (IoT) vulnerabilities came up at Infosecurity Europe 2017. However, security guru Bruce Schneier’s warning went beyond traditional cyber security concerns. He said that the Internet has essentially become a robot, capable of thinking and acting.

As more and more Internet-connected devices are switched on, we are building a global machine with multiple entry points. Robots could be the most used parts of this machine, making robot security important.

But as IO Active has found, robots aren’t as secure as we might expect. In its tests, industrial robots were hacked, and attackers were able to manipulate their behavior.

While awareness of the need for robot and IoT security is increasing, robotics makers need to build safeguards into their designs. Otherwise, the next global cyberattack might be spread by none other than robots.

Geopolitical fears could block AI growth

Recently, I published a book that looks at how new technologies, including artificial intelligence, will transform the geopolitical landscape.

This week, an example emerged in U.S.-China relations. The American government is looking to strengthen the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) with an explicit focus on halting Chinese investments in AI.

The U.S. is worried about Chinese AI and robotics advances.

There are fears that such investments could jeopardize U.S. national security and give China an unfair advantage economically.

The new mandate for CFIUS comes just months after a U.S. Department of Defense whitepaper warned that Beijing may be directing Chinese companies to invest in American robotics and AI businesses to gain a competitive edge.

Geopolitical concerns aren’t just limited to the acquisition of military robots. Robotics companies should be aware that government policies can affect their funding, so their long-term strategies should take them into account.

CES Asia showcases robotics advances

CES Asia convened this past week in Shanghai, China. It was the second Asian technology conference to feature robots in the past two months, trailing an IEEE conference in Singapore.

At January’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, robots had to vie for space and attention with many other products. At CES Asia, robots were front and center. More than 50 companies exhibited everything from delivery drones and self-driving cars to social and food-serving robots.

CES Asia demonstrated U.S. interest in the fastest-growing market in the world, and it provided a glimpse at key differences between East and West — especially around robots. Cultural attitudes, the rate of adoption, and government ambitions are among the differentiators for Asian robotics.

China drone swarms have global meaning

The China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC) successfully launched a drone swarm made up of 119 drones. These drones were all fixed-wing and conducted several exercises, like catapulting during takeoff and moving into different formations in the sky.

CETC’s achievement comes less than a year after the U.S. showed off its own drone swarm capabilities last October, when two Hornet jets launched a combined 103 drones and gave them objectives.

As drones become cheaper and more advanced, practically any country could use similar swarms to give themselves new offensive and defensive capabilities. How will this affect civilian drone use and global stability?

More on International Robotics Advances:

Amazon buys Whole Foods

E-commerce giant Amazon.com Inc. today bought grocery chain Whole Foods Market Inc. for about $13.7 billion. There has already been speculation that Amazon could use Whole Foods’ brick-and-mortar stores to aid in its distribution network for rapid delivery through its local truck fleet and potentially drones.

Coming from the other direction, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. bought online clothing store Bonobos for $310 million.

Could other traditional retailers, some of whom have been struggling to compete, combine their sales channels with the supply chains of online sellers harnessing robotics advances for next-generation customer service?