Everyone knows that robotics is the future. The future of reducing staffing costs, the future of streamlined efficiency and even, you could argue, the future of machines working for us and the reduction of working hours (we can but dream). Machine automation involves Information Technology (IT) in the form of software and hardware that is designed to be able to control the work of machines – sometimes down to the absolute minutiae, allowing for a level of control that would otherwise be impossible, or at the very best susceptible to human error (on the part of those controlling the machinery). Factory automation systems are a great example of machines under the control of sophisticated automation software.
Examples of machinery with automation software:
ATMs were only introduced in the mid-1980s. Previously if you wished to withdraw cash or check your balance you would have to walk to your local branch. Thanks to automation software, these machines have transformed the way people can access their money. Bowling alleys before automation needed people to reset the pins. Imagine that! Going back a little further in time, telephone switchboards were manually operated by teams of human operators. Now automated virtual and hosted PBX systems do the job.
Examples of types of automation:
Choreography: Usually illustrated by defining it as is the matter of composing the sequence of steps and moves for a dance that can be performed autonomously by an individual dancer from within the group. Of course this is an analogy and when implemented in automation of machinery via IT solutions it manifests in the plan and control of operations in an autonomous manner whereby individual objects of control (tasks, processes or services) interact and sync up with one another according to sequences that have been designed and ‘learned’ in the early stages of operation. Each individual element plays a vital role in determining the desired outcome.
Process Orchestration: Process orchestration involves the automation of processes by a central controller that puts process steps into action in response to events and data. This can be implemented via a generic tool such as a workflow engine or custom algorithms, allowing for a broad spectrum of simplicity and intricacy. Orchestration, as opposed to choreography places the emphasis on a central controller – be it software based or human to manage the outcome. Workflow, is a term used for semi-automation, which relies on more human involvement and can see the integration of choreography and process orchestration.
Swarm Intelligence: Very small robots who self-organize in a team in order to build a product to customer specifications.
Event Processing: This is usually represented by software that analyses streams of data for events that require action.
In addition, we have decision algorithms, which are self-explanatory and use algorithms to trigger necessary decisions, actioned by machinery at the end point and robotics (which introduces sensory perception and a huge element of flexibility in machinery) and artificial intelligence, which involves software capable of learning from situations and events – this is where many believe the future will lie, but also where ethical issues may begin to arise.