Autonomous Things (AuT) / Internet of Autonomous Things (IoAT)

The term Autonomous Things (AuT) or Internet of Autonomous Things (IoAT) refers to those devices which autonomously can perform specific tasks using Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms without the need of any human involvement or interaction. Autonomous Things (AuT) is a fairly new term gaining popularity and is used to describe those advancements in technological developments which convert computers into autonomous entities in the physical environment that need no human direction to function and can move freely and continue to interact with both other objects as well as human beings. Simply put, AuTs can function free of supervision within pre-established contexts to complete specific tasks.

A few examples of AuT or IoAT devices include drones, robotics, vehicles, autonomous software and your very own in-home assistant Alexa and other autonomous smart home devices. In this type of technology, machines’ capabilities are enhanced with the use of Artificial Intelligence (as mentioned above), sensors and analytical capabilities.

One of the Top Tech Trends of 2020 to Redefine the Years to Come

In early November 2020, Gartner’s newly released list of top 10 of 2020s strategic technology trends and Autonomous Things (AuT) was featured on it as one of the trends to watch out for in the years to come. There are several reasons that could be attributed to why this is the case. They include the falling price of sensors, better technology in autonomy and AI coming up everyday and the increased need of technology that could impact the physical world instead of just the digital world.

There are definitely concerns regarding the various applications of autonomous things. TV shows set in a dystopian reality like Black Mirror and the like show several use cases of autonomous things. The concerns range from how these sensor-operated machinery would fail to operate in unsuitable weather conditions to cybersecurity concerns. However, the most important thing that needs to be looked at is the undisputable question of ethics.

That being said, AuTs can influence every sector for the better and this cements their reputation as being a top technology trend of this year which will redefine the years to come.

The Shift from IoT to IoAT

The Internet of Things (IoT) and its applications have seen a palpable explosion over the past decade making its way into homes, offices and it is only indicative of bigger things to come in the next few years- and IoAT seems to be just that.

The biggest distinction between the conventional IoT products from its more advanced IoAT cousin is that the former can only generate and collect information while the latter is adapted to consume the information generated and collected too. This could be done in a local manner instead of complete reliance on the cloud, eventually reducing the extensive dependency currently placed on it. IoAT devices can even continue to communicate with one another, even during the event of a loss in connection with their controller. This is paving the way for the creation of IoAT devices that are more intelligent and independent than the IoT types. IoAT devices can go ahead and respond through automation in specific instances without requiring guidance or action from a human user, to follow through on actions set by guidelines drawn up by humans.

Eventually, a shift from IoT to IoAT means that problems can be tackled by devices far more intelligent than they ever were before that are independent of the cloud or a human user.

Types of Autonomous Things (AuT)

Autonomous Things most commonly can be categorised into three types which include:

  1. Robots

One of the most important applications of AuT is the use of robots. Their applications are most commonly seen in supply chain networks as replacing humans in warehouses completing difficult and fatal tasks that can be completed in a safer manner by robots instead.

2. Autonomous Drones

Delivery robots are another application and an example of this would be Amazon’s delivery drones.

3. Autonomous Vehicles

Given the possible economic potential, autonomous vehicles are one of the most preferred applications of AuT that is being explored extensively. However, getting them on the road so to speak faces a road filled with speed bumps on the regulatory and technical challenges.

Applications of AuT and IoAT in the Present and Future

The current applications of AuT technologies may not be as extensive as IoT but it is starting to gain a foothold across sectors with minor to large scale use cases, a few of which have been discussed below:

  1. In the Transport Sector

As mentioned above, the applications of autonomous vehicles are the ones that show the most promise and economic prospects. From the idea of robo-taxis pitched by Elon Musk to vehicle platooning by Peloton, transportation is a sector sure to be widely influenced by AuT in the decades to come. It is suggested that the use of autonomous vehicles will reduce the incidence of accidents in comparison to conventional automobiles.

2. In the Healthcare Sector

The healthcare uses of autonomous things is an interesting case study especially in these pandemic times. Robots functioning as assistant surgeons to aid one surgeon complete a surgery has implications on an economic as well as a staffing front. The sensing system can predict behaviour patterns and align its behaviour to suit the surgeon’s needs during the surgery. Another application would be the use of ambulance drone technology in areas struck by disaster. Drones also can be used in healthcare to provide medicine in areas inaccessible by ground transfer.

3. In the Agriculture Sector

Automated Things can allow for the high-tech control of farms in addition to use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) by farmers to prepare for harvests and the like.

4. In the Building and Construction Sector

One of the indubitable benefits of robots over humans is that large loads can be carried in a safer manner without causing strain or injury and this offers a bounty of help in the construction sector. With autonomous cranes or haulage vehicles being developed to optimise safety and complete a task without a driver, it is apparent that AuT is greatly beneficial in construction.

5. In the Retail Sector

Especially during the pandemic with people opting for contactless services, autonomous shops have been cropping up and increasing in popularity.

6. In the Defence Sector

The defence applications of AuTs may be controversial but a few use cases have been developed. This may be military drones deployed to monitor a given target which may even be equipped with weapons that can be controlled from a remote location. Lethal Autonomous Weapons are in research but have not made their way into the public as their use is still considered to be controversial.

7. In the Security Sector

Similar to the surveillance application of drones in defence use, autonomous drone systems employ AI-powered activity detection and can also be used in the security sector to look for and report any activity that raises suspicion. It could also be used as a crime-anticipation tool.

8. In the Environmental Sector

Climate change is a huge problem on the radar now and the use of AuT technology to monitor and collect information on endangered species using autonomic drone systems can be helpful in keeping them from the brink of extinction. Another application would be for more accurate weather forecasting using Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USVs) to draw and report oceanic and atmospheric data.

Businesses across sectors can greatly benefit from the use of autonomous things to complete several tasks involving more data with the use of automation and without any considerable human effort.