This article first appeared at The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Friday, October 10, 2014:
The next wave of technological robots is here. When the Roomba iRobot made its grand entrance a few years ago, it was considered clever but expensive. Now, however, it is taking a big bite out of the $12 billion annual vacuum cleaner business as its technology continues to improve and its prices come down. According to Roomba, there is
No need to hunt Roomba down when the job is done. Roomba charges itself, returning to its home base to dock and recharge between cleanings.
Roomba can be preset to vacuum when it’s convenient for you, up to seven times per week.
Roomba has a full bin indicator to let you know when the bin is getting full and needs to be emptied.
Google has just bought a company called Boston Dynamics that makes robots that will soon be able to remove, empty, and replace that bin. And Amazon is developing the technology to deliver that brand-new Roomba using one of its OctoCopters. In fact, an eager housewife will be able to place the order for a Roomba online and have it on her front doorstep in less than an hour.
She might be counseled, however, to wait a little bit as new models will have additional features such as voice commands and off-premise instructions delivered by her smart phone.
Bank customers are increasingly getting used to using customer controlled intelligent robots, which are taking over more and more transactions that used to be handled inside bank lobbies. As Martin Shires, a representative of NCR, said: “With [our] ATMs … You can do 95% of your transactions. Within five years this will be a common sight.” The technology already exists allowing customers to order a cash withdrawal using their smart phone. All they have to do is drive by the bank to pick it up without ever seeing a human being.
Pizza lovers, no doubt, will remember the clever video that Domino’s put together with its advertising agency in London, showing one of their ”DomiCopters” delivering two large pepperoni pizzas to a customer four miles away in less than 10 minutes. Although the video was originally designed as an attention-getting device, Domino’s is serious about the new technology:
We had a lot of fun putting the video together. Domino’s is an innovative company that is constantly looking at ways to deliver pizzas as quickly as possible. It would be great to think that one day pizzas could fly!
A trailer at the end of that video reminded viewers that, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, private drones delivering all manner of items, including pizzas, is “expected to be a $90 billion industry within 10 years.”
Using Google maps and technology that already exists for agricultural and military use, Mercedes-Benz has just announced its “Future Truck 2025,” a prototype of a driverless 18-wheeler. By its very title, Mercedes expects this to be common within 10 years. Some are suggesting it will happen a lot sooner than that.
The incentives are overwhelming. Truck drivers are paid $80,000 year and up, they get sleepy and tired, and sometimes frustrated. Federal regulations require a certain amount of sleep and big rigs are involved in more than 300,000 crashes every year, killing 4,000 people riding in passenger cars that are involved in those crashes.
The new technology allows the vehicle to know where it is at all times, but also the speed and position of every vehicle close by. Said Dr. Wolfgang Bernard, a Mercedes-Benz board member, “It never gets tired. It’s always 100% sharp. It’s never angry; it’s never distracted.”
The mapping technology not only plots the most efficient route for the rig to take, but it also anticipates construction delays, traffic congestion, and weather patterns. At present, the technology is not sophisticated enough to steer the big rigs into towns and cities due to complex traffic patterns, stop lights, and ever-changing traffic flow. But it is just a matter of time before those problems are solved.
When Amazon made headlines with its drones delivering packages to customers in less than an hour of them placing the order, Jeff Bezos, the genius now behind Amazon, told CBS’ 60 Minutes:
I know this looks like science fiction, but it’s not. We can do half-hour delivery … and we can carry objects … up to 5 pounds, which covers 86% of the items that we deliver.
One of the obstacles Bezos must overcome is the Federal Aviation Administration, which has in place rules prohibiting Amazon from testing its robots around its laboratory in Seattle. So he asked one of Amazon’s vice presidents, Paul Misener, to request permission from the FAA:
By this petition, Amazon is seeking its first such authorization, in order to conduct additional research and development for Prime Air.…
It is a necessary step towards realizing the consumer benefits of Amazon Prime Air and … Amazon’s continuing innovation in the United States requires the requested exemption for outdoor testing and support of our R&D.
But just in case the FAA Commissioner didn’t get the message, Misener delivered it loud and clear:
Of course, Amazon would prefer to keep the focus, jobs, and investment of this important research and development initiative in the United States by conducting private research and development operations outdoors near Seattle – where our next generation R&D lab and distinguished team of engineers, scientists, and aeronautical professionals are located.
In other words, this technology is going to happen regardless of the FAA’s rules, so they might as well just recognize reality and grant permission. Otherwise, Amazon will go somewhere else where it is treated more kindly.
Technology is advancing so quickly that government agencies are increasingly falling behind their attempts to regulate it. That’s the beauty of the robot revolution. As Misener said, in closing his request for permission from the FAA,
One day, seeing Amazon Prime Air will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road today, resulting in enormous benefits for consumers across the nation.
A graduate of Cornell University and a former investment advisor, Bob is a regular contributor to The New American magazine and blogs frequently at www.LightFromTheRight.com, primarily on economics and politics. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Telegraph: How your bank could look in five years’ time
Misener’s letter to the FAA: Amazon Petition for Exemption
YouTube: Domino’s Flying Drone Delivers Pizza
Technology Review: The Robot Revolution Is Here, and Growing
Amazon.com: Roombas for sale