Automation: the drone wars

With Google, Facebook and others in bidding races to buy drone technology, IT may need to look again at robotics.

But hobbyists, broadcasters and the military are by no means the only people with an eye on the potential for drones. Amazon may or may not be seriously considering delivery drones, but internet companies are certainly looking at the technology.

Google recently bought drone maker Titan Aerospace, and Facebook, UK-based Ascenta. Both are looking to airborne drones as a way to bring internet access to out of the way places, by relaying data signals from a high-altitude cruise.

Arial vehicles, of course, have a certain amount of glamour. More mundane applications include the hospital porter or really, a trolly pusher called the Tug. This is the sort of automation that saves labour and therefore, money. And it is also the sort of automation that is likely to cross the path of conventional IT.

How IT responds, though, is another question. To work, drone technology needs access to networking resources, to receive instructions and to report back. Some robotic systems even rely on the cloud to top up their on-board computing resources, which are limited by space and battery power. Processor intensive processes, such as voice recognition, can be done in the cloud. But this does need a ubiquitous and reliable data connection.

But the growth of drone technology is also cutting into other areas, such as smart buildings, and the Internet of Things. IT directors may find that their expertise is called for in areas far away from the data centre, as businesses, and business processes, become more automated.

It's as good an excuse as any to buy a drone for some test flights over the bank holiday weekend. Happy Easter.

Stephen Pritchard is a contributing editor at IT Pro.

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