Boosting Enterprise Efficiency: The Rapid Rise of AI-Powered Robotic and Autonomous Systems

Drawing on the brain power of artificial intelligence, robotic and autonomous systems are freeing organizations from tedious and repetitive work, while making the world safer and easier to navigate.

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Dell EMC

From driver-assisted vehicles on our city streets to self-driving vehicles on our factory floors, robotic and autonomous systems are becoming commonplace. You may even have one in your home, vacuuming the floors for you while you stay busy with more meaningful work. The truth is, these hands-off systems are just about everywhere anymore.

In a sign of the growing adoption of robotic systems, the market-advisory firm ABI Research predicts that, by 2025, more than 4 million commercial robots will be on the job in over 50,000 warehouses, up from just under 4,000 robotic warehouses in 2018.1 And that’s just warehouses — that’s not the “everywhere else” where these worker bees are found.

Robotic and autonomous systems are popping up all around us for a lot of good reasons. They make it easier for us to get things done. They free us from tedious and repetitive work. They make the world around us safer and easier to navigate.

The London-based analyst and market strategist Eoin Treacy may have summed up the case for robotic systems best when he wrote, quite simply, “Don’t think of robots as replacements for humans — think of them as things that will help make us better at tackling many of the problems we face.”2

Use cases

The real impact of robotic and autonomous systems shows itself best in actual use cases. So, let’s look at a few examples of the ways in which these systems are helping us tackle our problems.

Automating retail inventory visibility

For retailers, an empty shelf equates to lost revenue. Today, artificial intelligence (AI)-driven autonomous systems can help retailers keep a constant eye on inventory — so they can work proactively to keep shelves stocked. In a high-flying example of this capability that was demonstrated at the National Retail Federation’s NRF 2019 conference, a young company named Pensa Systems showed an autonomous drone system designed to help store personnel keep shelves from running dry. As explained in a Pensa news release, the system uses Intel® in-store edge servers with Intel architecture to power the analytics, along with an autonomous drone that flies around the store. The drone scans and automatically senses shelf conditions to help retailers avoid stockouts, optimize product planning and increase revenues.3

Handling materials in industrial settings

OTTO Motors, an Ontario-based company, manufactures flexible and intelligent self-driving vehicles for material handling for enterprises across many industries, including aerospace, automotive, e-commerce and healthcare. As a Dell Technologies case study notes, AI makes it possible for an OTTO vehicle to analyze its environment, internalize that information and then render a decision quickly as it moves across the industrial floor independently, bringing raw materials to the assembly line, moving parts between processes and carrying out other tasks.4

Enabling self-driving vehicles

By 2035, more than 12 million fully autonomous vehicles (AVs) are expected to be sold per year, and autos with AV features are expected to make up 25 percent of the global market, according to a study conducted by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in collaboration with the World Economic Forum.5 Zenuity is one of the companies working to make this brave new world possible. As a Dell EMC case study explains, Zenuity is developing AI-enabled driver-assistance and autonomous-driving technologies that promise to take vehicle safety systems to a new level. As part of this quest, Zenuity is training computer-vision algorithms to process visual inputs the way a human does, so they can recognize cars, people, signs, lane markers and everything else that comes into view on a roadway.6

Making industrial sites safer

Caterpillar, which introduced the industrial world to autonomous vehicles in 1996,7 is working to take the driver out of the company’s Cat® 793F mining trucks. With a 240-ton payload capacity, Cat® 793F mining trucks are built for the demands of hauling copper, coal, gold, iron ore and overburden on rugged mining sites in remote areas — with or without an operator in the cab. As noted in a Dell EMC case study, the trucks are guided by the Cat MineStar™ System, which functions as the brains of an autonomous system. Cat MineStar software manages how each truck goes to each loader, where it takes the material to and how it avoids other trucks on the site.8

The engine under the hood

With robotic and autonomous systems, the engine that drives everything is AI, typically powered by high performance computing (HPC) systems. As popular blogger and TED Annual Conference speaker Tim Urban points out, AI is the brain that allows the system to operate autonomously.

“First, stop thinking of robots,” Urban writes. “A robot is a container for AI, sometimes mimicking the human form, sometimes not — but the AI itself is the computer inside the robot. AI is the brain, and the robot is its body — if it even has a body.”9

The other side of the coin here is the HPC power that fuels the AI engine. That part is getting easier, thanks to new ready-to-deploy systems that are built for the challenges of training and running deep-learning algorithms. That’s the case, for example, with the recently launched Dell EMC Ready Solutions for AI – Deep Learning with Intel offering. It’s designed to simplify and accelerate the adoption of deep learning technology with an optimized solution stack that streamlines the entire workflow, from model building to training to inferencing.

Key takeaways

So, what’s the bottom line? A key takeaway here is that people are now able to build amazing robotic and autonomous systems with the combination of innovative algorithms, deep learning technologies, HPC systems and supporting technologies, like computer vision, sensors and high-speed communication links. In short, we now have everything we need to get new generations of robotic and autonomous systems up and running — to enrich our lives in countless ways.

To learn more

To explore leading-edge solutions for powering AI-driven applications, visit Dell EMC Ready Solutions for AI.


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Advancing the Frontiers of AI

Dramatic advances in data analytics and high performance computing capabilities have created a foundation for the adoption of AI-driven applications in the enterprise. However, these enabling technologies are only part of the AI story. The other part is the rise of smarter algorithms that can glean insights from massive amounts of data. In this series of posts, we explore these building blocks for AI solutions in enterprise environments.
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1 ABI Research, “50,000 Warehouses to Use Robots by 2025 as Barriers to Entry Fall and AI Innovation Accelerates,” March 26, 2019.

2 Eoin Treacy, Exponential Investor, “How to profit from the peaceful rise of the robots,” September 2, 2017.

3 Pensa, “Pensa Unveils Breakthrough Technology to Automate Retail Inventory Visibility,” January 14, 2019.

4 Dell EMC video, “OTTO Motors uses AI for a happier workforce.”

5 Boston Consulting Group (BCG), “Autonomous Vehicle Adoption Study, January 2015.”

6 Dell EMC case study, “Safer Driving,” June 2018.

7 Caterpillar, Caterpillar Facts Sheet. Q4 2016.

8 Dell EMC case study, “Cat® trucks get the job done with the help of an HPC cluster from Dell EMC,” August 2017.

9 Tim Urban, “The AI Revolution: The Road to Superintelligence

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.