How the internet of autonomous things will change your career

Forget self-driving cars. Over the next three years, just about everything that moves will go autonomous.

Robotic + human hands touch via a futuristic virtual interface.
ipopba / Getty Images

As a technology professional, which trends will affect you the most? The internet of things? AI? Augmented reality?

I believe that the answer is an unexpected one. Call it the internet of autonomous things.

Over the next five years, a huge number of the processes that take place within your organization will be conducted by robots -- or, more accurately, machines that run autonomously.

If you're picturing some kind of cyberpunk landscape of creepy robots running around unsupervised, let me paint a more accurate picture for you. Because the internet of autonomous things has already come online.

I'll tell you in a minute why the internet of autonomous things will completely transform your career. But first, let's take a look at a few autonomous things.

An incomplete inventory of autonomous things

The internet of autonomous things is hitting just about every industry, especially

 

As a technology professional, which trends will affect you the most? The internet of things? AI? Augmented reality?

I believe that the answer is an unexpected one. Call it the internet of autonomous things.

Over the next five years, a huge number of the processes that take place within your organization will be conducted by robots -- or, more accurately, machines that run autonomously.

If you're picturing some kind of cyberpunk landscape of creepy robots running around unsupervised, let me paint a more accurate picture for you. Because the internet of autonomous things has already come online.

I'll tell you in a minute why the internet of autonomous things will completely transform your career. But first, let's take a look at a few autonomous things.

An incomplete inventory of autonomous things

The internet of autonomous things is hitting just about every industry, especially farming. Tractor giant John Deere showed off its concept field sprayer recently. It's basically a robot that sprays a field with herbicide or pesticide without human control.

The company is also partnering with the autonomous drone startup Volocopter to build a huge autonomous crop-dusting drone.

A John Deere spokesman said that "autonomy is not about replacing the operator; it is about giving the operator a new role as a supervisor."

The UK's Cambridge Consultants built a robot called Mamut, which autonomously roams around farms collecting data on the health and yield of crops.

Another company called New Leader this summer unveiled a new product called the NL5000 G5 Crop Nutrient Applicator. It's an autonomous robot that fertilizes crops.

And while your food is being grown autonomously, robots might cook it as well. Several startups are creating food-making robots. A French robot-pizza restaurant chain called PAZZI involves customer-facing touch screens for placing the orders and paying for them. Autonomous robots then assemble and bake the pies at the rate of two pizzas per minute.

In the United States, restaurants like Spyce, Caliburger, Creator, Cafe X and Briggo offer autonomous food- or coffee-making systems.

Grocery stores are getting automation as well. AT&T is partnering with a company called Badger Technologies on autonomous robots that will roam grocery store isles looking for problems like out-of-stock items or spills that need to be cleaned up.

The Japanese shipping company NYK has successfully tested its "Maritime Autonomous Surface Ship," which is a self-driving boat that's 650 feet long and can carry thousands of cars and trucks.

ABB and Keppel Marine and Deepwater Technology have created the technology for an autonomous, un-manned harbor tugboat that will operate in the Port of Singapore by the end of next year.

Solar farms tend to exist in remote locations on land that has to be maintained. A company called Renu Robotics creates autonomous electric tractors to mow weeds and grass that grows in and around solar farms. Future robots from the company will also spray herbicides and pesticides.

A consortium of five universities has developed autonomous drones that can inspect and even repair offshore wind turbines. The work, which is dangerous when a person does it, is increasingly conducted by drones that are currently operated by remote control. The new technology enables drones to do the work autonomously.

An Australian company called Rio Tinto is working to automate mining as much as possible. The company's "Mine of the Future" program involves a NASA-like control room in Perth where operators oversee mining operations in far-away Pilbara. The company runs 140 autonomous trucks, plus an "AutoHaul" autonomous train that has been in operation since 2017. The company also operates an automated drilling system.

Meanwhile, another company called Epiroc is producing a platform called SmartROC, which is an autonomous drill rig.

Many autonomous things will be autonomous flying things. FlytBase's FlytWare is an autonomous drone system for indoor warehouses. The drones fly around warehouses taking inventory, even scanning barcodes.

Another company called Exyn offers an autonomous drone software platform called xynAI, which is optimized for underground space mapping, especially for gold mines. The software enables drones to fly autonomously into unknown caves and mines and 3D map the entire space.

Apollo Robotics is a maker of drone-based surveying technology. Their platform uses deep learning, 3D digitization, and sensors to survey a construction site or other kind of site.

Skydio is already on the second version of its docking system. The Skydio 2 Dock is an outdoor charging base station for drones. It enables any kind of autonomous drone-based monitoring, where the drone does its business, then flys back on its own to the base for charging between flights.

These are just a few of the Internet of autonomous things devices already in operation or soon to go online. It's just the beginning.

How the internet of autonomous things will transform your career

I'll get to the point: Autonomy turns "things" into "IT things."

In other words, everything that becomes autonomous becomes a major responsibility of the IT department. Tractors, boats, inventory drones, lawnmowers, trains and a thousand other things now generate terabytes of data, which has to be collected, stored and secured. Access has to be granted to specific users, who have to be authenticated. They'll need to be patched and updated. There will be compliance issues galore to deal with.

It means areas of the business that used to lie outside IT will come inside.

The internet of autonomous things will be attended by a new world of specialties. Information and security specialists will need to master the intricacies of drones and other mechanical devices. Many of them use new technologies to navigate, including visual systems, lidar, 3D mapping and others.

The truth is that autonomous things aren't really autonomous. They have to be provisioned, managed, updated, monitored and tracked. The data they generate will have to be dealt with, and it's all in addition to the growing and massive data generated by business activity and other new technologies.

They say that "software is eating the world." And it's a good line. But at the enterprise level, it's also true that IT is eating the organization. As the internet of autonomous things takes over more processes within your organization, an increasing amount of responsibility for disparate parts of the organization will be moved into IT.

Instead of managing and securing "computers," an increasing amount of work will be doing the same thing for vehicles, drones, robots and more.

The truth is that autonomous things only look "autonomous" because you'll be working hard behind the scenes to make it all work.