50 years ago this month, the first human set foot on the moon (unless you choose to believe it never happened.) At InOrbit, we work on scaling autonomous solutions, not spaceships, but this milestone got us thinking about what the next 50 years may have in store for us, and the impact of automation.
As I’ve shared here before, we do 3-4 big product pushes per year and give them a codename based on some of the greatest inventors and scientists. It seems appropriate that for our next one, which will be starting soon, we would pick Margaret Hamilton.
While the picture of Neil Armstrong’s first footprint on the moon has been repeated over and over, it’s not as often that we hear about all the people who made that possible. Hamilton led the software development efforts for Apollo 11; she was the first person to use the term “software engineering”. She was awarded the Medal of Freedom in 2016. If you’d like to learn more about Margaret Hamilton, there’s a great profile on Makers.com.
Besides being a pioneer in space exploration, something that obviously resonates with us at InOrbit, her work is still relevant to our current efforts. Hamilton designed Apollo’s software to be capable of dealing with unknown problems and flexible enough to interrupt one task to take on a more important one. One of our goals at InOrbit is to make robots safer and more resilient by identifying, resolving and anticipating problems that occur in the field by harnessing the power human problem-solving abilities and AI in the cloud.
More generally, the code that Hamilton’s team designed had to run in a resource-constrained environment: even if today’s robots have millions of times more storage and processing power than the Apollo 11’s two 70-pound computers, they are still limited compared to the processing that’s possible in the cloud and are often connected through limited bandwidth.
Looking at the next 50 years of space exploration, we believe that robots will play an integral part. Beyond the Mars Rovers, robots will be able to inspect and repair spaceships, under commands triggered by humans and/or AI. Moreover, before any settlement in space or on another planet, robots will likely be sent ahead of humans in missions to set up a living environment.
Today autonomous robots are taking some big steps – and also rolling, flying, hopping, swimming, balancing, slithering and any conceivable form of transportation. While there are many immediate applications of robots right here on Earth, which will transform our lifestyles over the same 50 years, thinking about robots and space exploration gets us excited at InOrbit. After all, our goal is to put every robot “in orbit” and our first product is called Mission Control.