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Software-Defined X

Florian Pestoni

Over the last two decades, we’ve seen the evolution of hardware virtualization that resulted in the cloud as we know it today. It started with Virtual Machines and then expanded to include Software-Defined Networking (SDN) and Software-Defined Storage (SDS).

Software-defined networking is “an approach to networking that uses software-based controllers or application programming interfaces (APIs) to direct traffic on the network and communicate with the underlying hardware infrastructure.” (Source: VMWare) Similarly, software-defined storage separates the management and provisioning of storage from the underlying physical hardware.

Together these technologies have made it possible to create highly scalable and efficient cloud infrastructure, which is agnostic to the specific applications that run on it while adapting to their needs. This has made it possible for anything from search to social networking and from dating apps to data analytics to grow to billions of users. Despite the breadth of applications, they share one limitation: at the end of the day, most of them are just pushing bits around a screen and can’t impact the real world. Until now.

The number of uses for robotics is exploding across all industries, with thousands of companies building a robot for X. Unlike pure cloud or mobile apps, robots can impact the physical world.

At InOrbit, our vision is to usher in the era of Software-Defined XTM, where any physical task X can be managed and controlled via algorithms. Our massively distributed platform can run on virtually any modern robot and provides common, secure and scalable mechanisms to manage distributed, heterogeneous fleets. This makes it possible to use software to control and direct the use of autonomous machines independently from the underlying physical hardware.

As the modern Internet was going through a similar explosion 25 years ago, Nicholas Negroponte, co-founder of the MIT Media Lab, published the influential and prescient book Being Digital. His main thesis was that we should be “moving bits, not atoms” – elevating digital content at a time when news, music, movies and books were physical objects. The world has changed since then: we made the shift from atoms to bits. (Think streaming, not DVDs.) Now, for the next big shift, we are coming full circle: through robots we can use bits (software) to move atoms (stuff). That’s what we mean by Software-Defined X.

Picture a busy warehouse, with self-driving forklifts, automated guided vehicles, autonomous mobile robots, pickers, de-palletizers and even cargo trucks, all coordinated in a graceful dance through InOrbit-enabled software. Every component can adapt instantaneously to changing demand, for example rebalancing omni-channel supply chains daily to adjust between e-commerce and brick-and-mortar. That’s Software-Defined Warehousing.

InOrbit can also enable Software-Defined Farming, by integrating and orchestrating a variety of robots specifically designed for tasks such as planting, harvesting, weeding or picking. Software-Defined Construction? Check. Software-Defined Mining? Yup.

Imagine the possibilities when repetitive or dangerous tasks can not only be done more efficiently and safely, but the whole operation can be reconfigured and continuously optimized through algorithms. Getting there requires a combination of autonomy at the edge, intelligence in the cloud and humans in the loop to handle corner cases and direct the flow of data and control, like a conductor leading an orchestra. InOrbit’s Software-Defined X makes it possible to deliver this masterful performance.