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New technologies, such as drones, are giving humanity new capabilities and techniques to simplify otherwise complex situations and improve lives by doing so.
One of the best examples of drones overcoming complexity, by leapfrogging infrastructure constraints, to do good is the RedLine cargo drones and drone ports initiative led by Jonathan Legard and designed by famed architect Lord Norman Foster.
Foster who is credited with ‘inventing’ the modern airport and the world’s biggest airport, plus the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport for Virgin Galactic in New Mexico and designed Lunar building studies, which would be built by robots, in conjunction with the European Space Agency, as well as creating some of the world’s most iconic building designs has partnered with Legard’s RedLine Drones and has built the first prototype Drone Port which he says will have a very broad social agenda.
Very complex supply chain challenges
Lagard has identified Rwanda to be the first destination on the African continent to build the Drone Port designed by The Norman Foster Foundation, which was able to harness the creativity of students and professors from five universities around the world at institutions including MIT, ETH Zurich and others from industry such as LafargeHolcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction.
The majority of roads in Rwanda are mere dirt lanes with large potholes and mud tracks. Trucks, 4 x 4 vehicles and cars frequently break down and the estimated time of arrival of cargo is often determined in days, rather than hours. With its inadequate road and rail infrastructure, wide-open spaces, favorable regulatory bodies and relatively quiet skies Rwanda is highly suited to operating cargo drones.
Norman Foster has expressed his belief that RedLine drones can reduce transport constraints and create better links between regions and among remote communities and deliver consignments, such as critical medical supplies, in one twelfth of the time of a Land Rover.
Small helicopter-type drones with little payloads and limited ranges are useful for photography, surveillance and perhaps so-called ‘last-mile’ (final) delivery in highly developed places with good infrastructure. But they would be ineffective in such a complex infrastructure as Rwanda.
RedLine’s fleet of fixed-wing drones have a 10 feet (3 meter) wingspan, 22 lbs (10 kilogram) payload and 31 miles (50 kilometer) range. These drones will transport emergency cargo; primarily blood to treat malaria of which 450,000 people die every year in Africa, sickle cell disease, which results in more than 100,00 deaths each year and blood for transfusions for mothers during childbirth – more than 60,000 mothers die each year due to bleeding and lack of access to blood.
Once the initial network of RedLine drones is operational, the plan is to introduce the BlueLine fleet of larger drones with a 20 feet (6 meters) wingspan, 220 lbs (100 kilogram) payload and 62 miles (100 kilometer) range by 2025.
The idea is that in the long term BlueLine will help subsidize RedLine’s humanitarian activities by carrying commercial cargo for fee-paying clients.
DronePort more than a hangar for drones
With a rapidly growing population Africa is facing exponential growth that is set to double to 2.2 billion people across the continent by the year 2050. In particular Rwanda also faces the prospect of up to 70 percent youth unemployment.
With this in mind the architects have designed the DronePorts with a unique structure so that minimum products are imported and the maximum materials and building construction is done locally leading to short and long-term sustainable development and employment in the local community.
In addition for a place to operate, build and repair the drones, Foster envisions DronePorts will become a catalyst for other industries to develop and prosper, such as e-commerce, health care and education facilities, he hopes the ports will have a strong civic presence, based on sharing and multiple uses where marketplace and community centers will flourish.
A full-scale prototype of the DronePorts was built in May 2016 at the 15th International Architecture Biennale. The buildings construction, with bricks made from stabilized earth, a reliable, affordable and environmentally friendly building material, which does not require intensive use of fuel, was filmed to serve as a model for replication by local communities in emerging economies.
The Norman Foster Foundation is working on creating a ‘SolarBrick’, which could be incorporated into the structure of the droneport vaults. The ‘SolarBrick’ will have solar cells on its outer surface, charging a long-life battery and then powering a LED lamp on the inner surface.
The innovative design of the DronePorts has been designed with the goal of ensuring the drone is capable of delivering cargo and urgent medical supplies quickly and cheaply top overcome the limitations caused by poor infrastructure.
Foster and Lagard both believe Africa will be the first continent to adopt flying robots for cargo at a massive scale.
It’s not technologies that change the world it’s the people who implement and use them.
Additional links to articles, photos and videos
The existence of new drone regulations hasn’t dampened the appetite of prospective drone users for commercial purposes. There’s a ground swell of commercial users looking to get permission for drone use in areas as diverse as retail deliveries, agriculture crop spraying, real-estate sales, commercial photography and filmmaking, search and rescue operations, and oil spill monitoring and an abundance of other sectors.
Governments’ approval is seen as a first step in unleashing a potentially multibillion dollar industry that so far has been largely limited to military and law enforcement applications and more recently monitoring of pipelines along Alaska’s northern shore and energy lines of the National Grid in the UK.
As regulations are clarified and ratified one industry that has seen early adoption of drones is the Insurance sector. In a recent report by PwC, the global audit and consulting firm estimates:
The addressable market of drone powered solutions in the insurance industry at US$ 6.8 billion.
There are three areas where drone operations can enhance an insurer’s procedures: risk monitoring, risk assessment and claims management
After a natural catastrophe, a drone could reach a remote scene much faster than a claims adjuster.
The largest insurance loss event globally in 2015, of both natural and man-made disasters, was the two explosions at the Port of Tianjin in China, which triggered property claims of between US$ 2.5 to US$ 3.5 billion according to reinsurance company Swiss Re. This was also the largest man-made insured loss event in Asia ever recorded.
The Tianjin explosions have presented insurers with a number of challenges, not least lack of access to the affected area to assess the full extent of damage and resulting insurance claims.
According to a report from insurer Swiss Re:
Drone and satellite imagery have helped loss assessment (at the Port of Tianjin). Drones were sent in to take pictures of the disaster site immediately after the explosions.
These images were compared with satellite images of the site taken prior to the event.
The comparison provided a view of the extent of destruction, and also of the high number of vehicles and containers on the site at the time of the explosion. Initial loss assessments have been based on this information.
This would not have been possible without drones because of the 3 kilometers (1.86 miles) radius exclusion zone enforced at the site. The alternative would have been to wait until the exclusion zone was relaxed and use manned aircraft to take pictures after the event from high altitude, which would have been more expensive and may not have produced the same quality images.
Drones have the advantage of being small, low-cost and able to closely survey and photograph large areas more efficiently. Damaged areas such as Tianjin may not be visible by satellites and manned aircraft, for example due to dust cover, or may be inaccessible for first-hand human inspection due to contamination or transport outages after a disaster event.
Another example of where drones are now being deployed to areas unreachable by claims adjusters is in a flood zone. In December 2015, drones were used to take pictures over Cumbria in the UK after large areas were flooded due to Storm Desmond. The images allowed for better response planning, and loss adjusters used them to identify the worst- affected areas and properties for which claims were reported, which in turn facilitated initial claims reserving.
Significant cost savings
AXA Group, the world’s largest insurer with revenues approaching US$ 100 billion and a recently released strategy to become a leader in digital and technological insurance is carrying out trials of drones in France and Belgium. The company says:
Drones fly over inaccessible damaged areas to gather images or videos, which are immediately sent to remote claims adjusters so they can update clients on the loss, trigger communication and potentially advance payments to clients. Using drones can therefore increase trust and transparency and improve the customer experience.
Besides the speed of deploying resources and payments to those insured, the cost savings to insurers could be significant. No longer must underwriters travel in person to inspect the exterior of a building or property. Details of a risk could be validated without incurring travel costs or costs to make in-person inspections.
After a claim is filed, an adjuster could dispatch a drone to investigate the claim. Instead of climbing a ladder to inspect an icy patch of a damaged roof, a claims adjuster could dispatch a drone to conduct the inspection.
Drones can also survey objects from the side rather than just from above, and can facilitate 3D reconstruction of an environment using stereoscopic cameras. These are valuable inputs for improved damage assessment.
Drones could certainly save insurance carriers the costs associated with claims’ adjusters’ worker’s compensation claims.
Drones provide underwriters and claims personnel with a safe, cost-effective alternative to physical inspections.
There are many obstacles still to overcome, privacy issues, data protection, nuisance, physical or bodily harm. These obstacles present a new opportunity to insurers – as individuals and companies obtain Certificate of Authority to fly drones, to become drone pilots, these individuals and companies will also require insurance coverage for their drone activities. A study commissioned by the European Commission found that drone operations do carry the potential to generate liability claims requiring lengthy and complex legal proceedings.
While insurance company use of, and indeed insurance coverage for, commercial drones is “up in the air,” there’s no question that the drone market is a key growth area.
 PwC Global, Clarity from Above May 2016 (https://www.pwc.pl/pl/pdf/clarity-from-above-pwc.pdf) Last accessed July 5th, 2016
 Swiss Re, Sigma Number 1/2016 “Natural catastrophes and man-made disasters in 2015”
 “Drones will transform loss adjusting”, Insurance Day, January 2nd, 2016 (https://www.insuranceday.com/news_analysis/special_reports/drones-will-transform-loss-adjusting.htm) last accessed July 5th, 2016
Axa Drones Start-in 2016 (https://www.axa.com/en/newsroom/news/start-in-2016. Last accessed July 5th, 2016
 Steer Davies Gleave for European Commission, 2014. Study on the Third-Party Liability and Insurance Requirements of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) (https://www.eurocontrol.int/sites/default/files/ec_rpas_final_report_nov14_steer_davies.pdf) Last accessed July 5th, 2016
Picture credit Brian Moore Draws Creative Commons
One of the most read articles on Robotenomics is Five areas in Robotics and their economic impact. The first area in the article I cited is drones. Subsequent client research reports by Robotenomics and articles, such as this one on Amazon’s drones have qualified the employment growth for drone pilots. The BBC have a nice summary of job projections which is well worth a read…
Globally, the world market for piloted drones is forecast to more than double by 2022 and be a 4bn euros ($4.37bn) business per year, according to a European Commission impact assessment report issued in December in conjunction with its proposal to gradually create a legal framework for the safe operation of drones. Europe would represent about 25% of the world market, translating into some 150,000 jobs by 2050.
For the next 40-50 years there’s going to be guaranteed jobs,” for those with special skills as a drone pilot or systems engineer
Drone Traffic Management
This is actually quite a big deal – could new jobs be created in Drone Traffic Control?
NASA recently successfully demonstrated rural operations of its unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) traffic management (UTM) concept, integrating operator platforms, vehicle performance and ground infrastructure.
With continued development, the Technical Capability Level One system would enable UAS operators to file flight plans reserving airspace for their operations and provide situational awareness about other operations planned in the area. (NASA Ames Research Center)
Bookshelf: Here Come the Robots
Just when I’ve been thinking about creating a robot book for children along come three!
Heavy construction machinery — bulldozers, diggers, tractors and the like — seem to have cornered the market when it comes to mechanical objects that can be made into emotionally responsive, strikingly human characters in children’s books. But what about the robots? Here in the 21st century, when our vacuums are de facto robots and our cars may well soon be too, when certain parents are as likely to dream of their child learning to code as they are to dream of their child learning Mandarin, shouldn’t robots be getting more picture-book love? (New York Times)
Opening Pandora’s AI Box in Oxford
About three months ago, Dr Simon Stringer, a leading scientist in the field of artificial intelligence at the Oxford centre for theoretical neuroscience and Artificial Intelligence, fell down some stairs and broke his leg.
The convalescence period proved unexpectedly fruitful.
Freed from the daily rigmarole of academic life, you see, Dr Stringer’s mind was able to wander. And so it was, when he least expected it, that the solution to one of the biggest challenges in artificial intelligence — the so-called binding problem — struck him out of the blue. (Iza Kaminska at FT Alphaville)
Will artificial intelligence bring us utopia or destruction?
An interesting (long read) discussion featuring Nick Bostrom’s work on AI and SuperIntelligence.
Can a digital god really be contained?
He (Bostrom) imagines machines so intelligent that merely by inspecting their own code they can extrapolate the nature of the universe and of human society, and in this way outsmart any effort to contain them. “Is it possible to build machines that are not like agents—goal-pursuing, autonomous, artificial intelligences?” he asked me. “Maybe you can design something more like an oracle that can only answer yes or no. Would that be safer? It is not so clear. There might be agent-like processes within it.” Asking a simple question—“Is it possible to convert a DeLorean into a time machine and travel to 1955?”—might trigger a cascade of action as the device tests hypotheses. What if, working through a police computer, it impounds a DeLorean that happens to be convenient to a clock tower? “In fairy tales, you have genies who grant wishes,” Bostrom said. “Almost universally, the moral of those is that if you are not extremely careful what you wish for, then what seems like it should be a great blessing turns out to be a curse.” (New Yorker)
- The Phenomenology of Self-Driving Cars — why I imagine driverless cars are going to hit a much bigger obstacle than most. (Next New Deal – The Roosevelt Institute, H/T @RobertWent)
- Robots that understand — DeepMind, the UK artificial intelligence group purchased by Google earlier this year, has revealed plans to create a broad alliance with the University of Oxford after acquiring two companies spun out of computer science projects at the elite academic institution. According to the Financial Times one of those companies: “is developing systems capable of the visual recognition of objects in the real word. This means, for example, giving robots three-dimensional awareness that can allow them to understand how a cup sits on a table.”
- CyPhy Works’ New Drone Fits in Your Pocket, Flies for Two Hours. Anybody who’s ever flown a rotary wing drone will look at the stats of CyPhy Works’ new Pocket Flyer drone and be amazed. It fits in your pocket and weights a mere 80 grams. It’ll fly continuously for two hours or more, sending back high quality HD video the entire time. What’s the catch? There isn’t one, except for the clever thing that grants all of CyPhy’s UAVs their special powers: a microfilament tether that unspools the drone and keeps it constantly connected to communications and power. (I’m a huge admirer of CyPhyWorks)
- The first example of a robot automating surgical tasks involving soft tissue. “There are no bad robots, there are just bad surgeons.” New Research Center Aims to Develop Second Generation of Surgical Robots.
- Robot project envisions factories where more people want to work. Rather than taking jobs, robots will one day soon join people on the factory floor, as co-workers and collaborators. That’s the vision of a EUR 6.5 million project led by Stockholm’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology. (PHYS.org)
This may sound crazy. This may be crazy. But Google is getting serious about sending packages flying through the air on tiny drones. And this is how that happened.
Spending on robots worldwide is expected to jump from just over $15 billion in 2010 to about $67 billion by 2025.
Summarizing what is going on in a video is another task that may soon be done automatically thanks to work done through the Video In Sentences Out study. Using artificial intelligence deep learning methodology, a team has already been able to achieve accurate results in almost half of the videos the system has examined.
The American Federal Aviation Administration predicts that in forty years’ time, some 40% of air cargo will be transported by unmanned aircraft.
The field of ‘artificial general intelligence’ or AGI — has made no progress whatever during the entire six decades of its existence. Despite this long record of failure, AGI must be possible.
In 1850 the French economist Frederic Bastiat published an essay titled: That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen. The essay is most famous for introducing the concept of ‘opportunity cost,’ the limits, alternatives and choices – to obtain more of one thing, we give-up the opportunity of getting the next ‘best thing,’ or because we “can’t have it all,” we must decide what we will have and what we must forgo. That sacrifice is the opportunity cost of the choice.
Many argue that opportunity cost is applied in business, once the cost of marginal labor rises too high, it makes more sense to replace minimum wage jobs with robots or other automated technology – leading to increased production and profits.
Of course this is not a new phenomenon. In his 1850 essay, Bastiat wrote:
“A curse on machines! Every year, their increasing power devotes millions of workmen to pauperism, by depriving them of work, and therefore of wages and bread. A curse on machines!
This is the cry which is raised by vulgar prejudice, and echoed in the journals… machinery must injure labour. This is not the case.”
It is a cry echoed in media today, just as it was 164 years ago – 164 years during which humans have seen the greatest advancement of technological progress, resulting in more luxury goods, improved health, longer life expectancy, better housing, and sanitary, clean water, electricity, instant communication around the globe via the Internet for free, mobile phones, planes and automobiles, heart transplants, and so on. Ninety nine percent of the poorest people in the ‘developed world’ have amenities that the wealthiest people of Bastiat ‘s time could not imagine.
Machinery does reduce some labor, but as Bastiat points out new labor from new industries is quickly created. The very industry, robotics, that is said to be eliminating jobs is in fact creating hundreds of thousands of jobs.
According to the European Union Commission, by 2020, service robotics could reach a market volume of more than 60 billion euros per year, and are forecasting 240,000 new jobs in the EU alone, backed by an investment of Euro 2.8 billion during this period.
The International Federation of Robotics has reported that Robotics will be a major driver for global job creation creating more than one million jobs by 2016.
Many of these new jobs will come from investments into the Robotics sector which is currently experiencing a major boost.
Startup Robotic companies like Jibo blasted through their crowd funding campaign raising $1,270,193 in a matter of days against a goal of $100,000. Much of the investment will allow Jibo to recruit new staff as the company delivers its artificially intelligent robot helper.
Another robotics startup, Airware the drone manufacturer raised an additional $25 million series B round on top of the $12.2 million it raised in it’s A series round. The company said it had raised the new funding: “to build out its staff.”
The South Korean government is mooted to invest $2.5 billion US dollars by the end of 2018 in joint projects with robotics companies, creating more jobs and targeting more than $6 billion US dollars in annual sales.
Japan is building a huge drone fleet. The country will invest ¥3 billion (approximately $372 million) in the coming decade to drastically expand its military unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) program.
An estimated $6.4 billion is currently being spent each year on developing drone technology around the world, according to a report published earlier this month by the Teal Group Corp.
Whilst jobs will disappear, there are literally hundreds of companies and governments investing tens of billions of dollars in drones and robotics and in doing so creating a significant number of new jobs.
The current generation of engineers and roboticists are making science fiction stories of magical realism come true and creating millions of jobs in the process. As Bastiat put it: “to curse machines is to curse the human mind.”
Update – see also GE Reports on the Cyborg Workplace.