At InOrbit, we’ve partnered with many robotics companies to advance the software tools and processes that have helped them scale to hundreds of robots, and eventually to thousands of robots.
Robots and Humans are Alike - We All Fail
At InOrbit, our mission is to accelerate the adoption of robotics at scale. After talking to 100+ robotics companies, from startups to companies with billions of dollars in revenue, with all types of autonomous robots, we’ve reached an inescapable conclusion: they will all fail.
We’re not saying the companies will go out of business (although, sadly, many have in recent years). Rather, every robot will experience failures, in some cases multiple times per day or per hour. While a few of these failures may be catastrophic (and occasionally hilarious), like steering into a pond, getting stuck next to a trash can, or suddenly catching on fire, many errors are recoverable. The most frequent failures are what we call autonomy exceptions, where a robot finds itself in a situation that falls just outside its operating parameters.
The term manifesto is usually reserved for political or artistic declarations around the intentions, motives or views of an individual or group, but in recent years the technology world has seen its share of manifestos from various groups.
Explanation of a new technology, term, or the goals of such a group are seen in manifestos such as the GNU Manifesto (1985), The Hacker Manifesto (1986), The Third Manifesto (1995), and The Agile Manifesto (2001), which fundamentally changed how software is built.
It is in that spirit that we founded the Robot Operations Group (ROG - pronounced “rogue”) with a group of robotics leaders and have just released the Robot Operations Manifesto. The ROG’s mission is to further the creation of best practices for robot operations at scale. We felt that, while there are already many places to learn about how to build a robot, when it comes to the challenges that emerge when growing from 50 to 5,000 robots, there just wasn’t a venue for discussion and learning.
When I was a child, my father would come home from work and give me the extra computerized punch cards that were used that day - it was my first exposure to the world of computers. Later, I became an active participant in the personal computer revolution, both at school (which let students program on Apple II systems) and at home (my father purchased an early IBM PC system).
Because PCs were so new, most people who used them needed to learn how to program them, and in my case it was figuring out the BASIC language. After a while, my interests changed from programming to writing, but I had friends who stayed interested in programming. They discovered how much more they could do when they programmed on top of libraries that gave them higher functions. Similarly, in the early days of the commercial Internet, I was reading books on HTML so I could create my own web pages. I then also learned how to configure and manage early wireless networks (ah, the joys of 802.11b!).
Technology developments like these often follow the same path - a new technology emerges and gains momentum, but then others begin creating tools that let additional people participate in the process from a different starting point. For example, in the world of the web, you can now build a website by using templates and tools from WordPress or Squarespace, and download thousands of widgets that run different parts of the site, such as creating an online store.
Today, InOrbit announced our latest funding news, with $2.6 million in seed round funding to help us on our goal to support 1 million robots that will positively impact the lives of 1 billion people.
We started InOrbit more than 2 years ago to help accelerate the adoption of robotics at scale. At the time, there were no good platforms to manage fleets of robots in the field, and most companies had to cobble together tools that were hard to maintain, and often didn’t work as their fleet grew.
Smarter, autonomous robots, have been developed over the past five years thanks to advances in mobile computing, sensors and AI. Many of these robots are now being deployed to assist in the fight against COVID-19 in an effort to “flatten the curve” of cases or provide human-augmented services for companies providing essential functions.
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.
As the COVID-19 epidemic continues to wreak havoc in countries around the world, there’s some reason for hope as the number of new cases in China drops to 0. This shows that with concerted effort by individuals, companies and government, it is possible to limit the exponential scale of the virus.
For this post, I want to go beyond the day-to-day commentary on the robotics industry or our own business and take a look at longer term trends shaping society. Needless to say, this is a personal perspective and pure speculation. Making predictions about what’s to come is easy, getting it right is hard, so take this with a grain of salt. My hope is that this will spur some healthy discussions and drive additional innovations.
Creative destruction. Sounds cool, doesn’t it? If you’re picturing a demolition derby with decorated cars driven by artists and designers… that’s not it at all.
The gale of creative destruction was first introduced by economist Joseph Shumpeter in 1942, to describe the “process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one”.