Friday, January 08, 2016

It's Autonomous Movement. You're Welcome.

Back in 1995 I gave a talk on the next big step that would advance technology non-incrementally. The prediction was that nearly free, ubiquitous access to high-speed, nearly infinite storage would be the trigger. This was framed in the context of Moore's Law that processing power would increase, become cheaper, and increasingly smaller forms. For all that to usable, we would need storage to match. The aggregate of those would allow for rule and pattern algorithms to see a step-function increase in capability which would unlock natural language processing and a veritable flood of sensory inputs, orders of magnitude beyond what was available then.

And that is precisely what we have seen.

During a recent talk, I was asked to update my predictions and I was shocked to realize that I had completely forgotten to publish any of my writings on the subject. I'll get more into the detail in subsequent posts but the short form is that autonomous movement is the next non-incremental technical revolution for mankind.

Imagine when you can take a box and connect it to frame that provides sensor information and locomotion. Right now, imagine that box is the size of a large piece of luggage and needs significant amounts of power and cooling. But that box that take inputs from gps, stereo cameras, thermal imaging, infrared beacons, wifi and bluetooth signals, lidar and so forth, and provides outputs that allow the frame to be aware of its location and control locomotion from any point to any other point. While movement is underway the box analyzes the sensor inputs to be constantly aware of its location and adapt to roads, obstacles, people, signals, signage, and other conditions as it independently controls movement using the locomotive capabilities to reach a destination. This is what a self-driving car would need to do to be self-driving.

It is also what a self-driving semi-truck would do. Or a bus. Or a tractor. Or a delivery van.

Now imagine that miniaturization continues and this very large box becomes a very small box. It becomes small enough to fit inside the remote control car your child might play with. The cameras and sensors and batteries and the box itself only take up the space of a large shoe box.

If you could put this box and sensors and power in a small box, then you could use it not just for making a car autonomous. You can now make a shopping cart autonomous, or a camera that represents you remotely, or a mailbox.

Every situation in which something must physically be moved as cargo (including humans) can now be moved by independent locomotive devices with these boxes and sensors. Some frames are big like the trailer trucks that hog the road today. Some are small like the size of stove or refrigerator. Some carry one or two people, some carry dozens of people. Some large ones, only carry small ones, like a fleet of small flies on the back of a rhino. The big carrier frame would zip from the warehouse to your neighborhood and offload a bunch of little frames that dart around offloading their cargo into receptacles or awaiting humans to come unlock their doors and remove their packages. The trash bin on the corner wakes up when it is full and takes itself to the processing center, replaced by an empty bin that moves itself out of storage; all without human intervention. Why have a store when I can request that the produce counter come to my office? I pick through the grapes and broccoli making my selections which I deposit in my personal box which will be waiting for me when I get home. We already see the push to online and personalized delivery, imagine when you can take humans and the cost of moving and storing physical goods completely out of the equation.

So anyone in the business of moving things or people, or selling physical items from a physical location, or delivering anything for anyone, take note. There is a clock ticking on your industry. After all, the big box that fits in the car is only a few years away. And once we have the box, the only challenge is making the box smaller. And making the box smaller is vastly easier than getting the box right the first time.

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