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By Len Zuga, Technology and Business Insider

Autonomy and Integration: Changing the way Robots work

To date advances in the state of the art in robotics autonomy have been largely driven by the demands for defence applications. Although defence funding for research and development remains a large component of what is still early stage development of autonomous systems, that is rapidly changing thanks to the self funded R&D of Rockwell Collins, FLIR, Ultra Electronics, L-3 and others interviewed at the October 10-13 annual AUSA meeting and exhibition.

According to Dave Vos, Rockwell Collins’s Senior Director of UAS & RCI Control Technologies, the transition to concurrent manned and unmanned systems in both commercial and military operations will happen faster than most people expect and it is the confluence of events and generational change that is making that happen much faster than the outgoing generation of military and industry leaders had expected.
But before we explore the conditions determining the pace of systems integration that will allow fully autonomous robots to operate concurrently in the manned environment a look at the current state of the art is in order.

As in any market, but even more so in high-tech markets with highly globalized supply chains and in the current volatile economic political environment, complex factors influence market developments because everything is connected. This is especially true in the emerging robotics markets.

As vehicles in the EoD class are increasingly deployed for other missions, including reconnaissance and perimeter security operations, sensor content will necessarily increase. As systems capabilities develop, there are vastly more applications for “sensor dense” vehicles which act in remote sensing and early warning roles compared to the number of vehicles that will be required to use tools in remediation efforts, such as explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) or rubble removal during rescues.

Affixing dates to this transition of capabilities from “Now” to the point in time when “Capabilities that are reliable, dependable and trusted” is a difficult proposition at best. But companies intimately involved in developing those capabilities are consistent in their predictions of “within this next decade”.

The difficulty in making this timeline forecast is that many factors influence the pace of developments in technology to allow advancing to the next level of autonomy thereby opening the overall unmanned systems and mobile robotics markets to more applications and demand.

In my own earlier market research [Global Mobile Defense Rescue & Security Robots – Sensors & Payloads: Markets & Technologies Outlook – 2012-2017] from which this analysis is adapted, the most optimistic autonomous capabilities development scenario is based on a continuation of the current pace of development dominated by military applications and R&D. Under that scenario R&D funds would continue to be available for military robotics as these systems have proven their value in theater operations resulting in the steady state capabilities maturation and market growth that we are currently seeing.

That, however, does not appear to be the case. According to people interviewed during AUSA’s annual exposition that pace is actually moving faster thanks to a confluence of factors that includes a new generation of industry and military leaders that are completely comfortable with advanced technologies coming in to play. The conservatism of the previous leadership that ushered in the first four function calculators, the PC and mobile computing devices are all retiring and their technological conservatism is retiring with them. Likewise for the culture of leadership dominated by manned aircraft pilots. Their numbers are proportionately shrinking as unmanned aircraft now dominate combat operations and thei

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