To Boldly Go: Small Robots Make a Great Leap Into the Science Museum! #LondonTechWeek

How are Robots With AI Being Used in the Space Industry?

We were extremely honoured to see our very own Small Robot Tom installed in a new Tomorrow’s World Exhibition in the Science Museum: Driverless - who is in control? With a special shout out for our robots and their Robot Gin from Sir Ian Blatchford, Director General of the Science Museum, in his opening speech for the exhibition, what a London Tech Week this has been for us!

First up, we’re a finalist for the extremely prestigious TechCrunch Europas. Next, I spoke at CogX Festival of Artificial Intelligence on the AgTech panel: looking at the future impact in farming and food production. And bees. And then a whirlwind of excitement as we won the CogX awards for Best AI product in Agriculture!

Briefly, a chance to pause and reflect. The exhibition examined how Artificial Intelligence is revolutionising many areas of our daily lives. I was particularly intrigued by an incredible autonomous building robot, designed to create lunar dwellings. Meteor-proof, futuristic and igloo shaped, they were fabricated through 3D printing with moondust. No need to bring any materials: just use what’s already there. Ingenious.

Our co-founder Sam was serendipitously at the same time at Bloomberg’s Sooner Than We Think event, talking about the social impact of AI. Its premise: how will today’s tech shape the future?

Walking through the Space gallery, with its awe-inspiring monuments to the Apollo missions, leading then to Driverless and our own little MarsRover-inspired robot, this got me wondering about the next small steps for mankind. With such rapid pace in robotics in Land, Sea and Air so enrapturingly captured by this thought-provoking exhibition - what’s the next frontier?

How are robots with AI being used in the Space industry?

The ability of a computer-controlled robot to perform tasks and actions commonly associated with humans is hugely beneficial. As the exhibition explored in detail, innovators continue to find news ways to take advantage of this technology. It was staggering how many of these smart machines already exist. Fully autonomous machines with the ability to make decisions on their own.

Curated by Ling Lee and Paulo Cocco, it’s a unique glimpse into the AI-driven tech that could shape the habits, behaviour and society of tomorrow. Where will they boldly go?

Space means business

With NewSpace, the space race has been hotting up. SpaceX versus Blue Origin. Billionnaire blingfest. But there’s so much more beyond spaceflight.

Robotics present hugely exciting business opportunities for innovators to take advantage of, in space and other industries. There are many sectors across the globe calling for a reduction in costs and an increase in output, which robots can provide. More efficient, dexterous, and able to work all around the clock.

Speaker after speaker during London Tech Week has stressed the enormous opportunity Artificial Intelligence and robotics presents for British business. Sadiq Khan. Lord Browne. Oliver Dowden. Chris Skidmore.

If harnessed correctly, the London Mayor argued in his CogX address, AI could supercharge a diverse array of sectors around the UK, driving wealth creation. We are on the cusp of a fourth industrial revolution (4IR), and an agriculture revolution, stressed Chris Skidmore: the UK is currently among the frontrunners, and this is a tremendous opportunity. Oliver Dowden spelt out the details of the new Government Technology Innovation Strategy.

Space Rangers

Space technology has been flourishing for decades. Satellite data is ubiquitous and routine in many everyday applications. Communication, sat nav, improved routing, environmental monitoring, surveillance, weather forecasting, urban planning, traffic control. Certain areas across the globe require special observation for research purposes, such as places of deforestation or unique wildlife. DiFID uses AI and satellite technology to estimate population sizes, so that it can deliver overseas aid more effectively.

However, processing the huge volumes of requisite data can be extremely difficult. This is where artificial intelligence comes in. It can make sense of the data collected by satellites, such as helping solve congestion and plan urban roads more efficiently.

We’re using space data (ie GPS: plus lidar and some bespoke tech) to get a very precise fix for each plant in a field, and to run our robots autonomously. As are other autonomous vehicles, such as freight ships. AI maps out the best possible routes ensuring the transport system is fully optimised.

CogX took a deep dive with the Astronomer Royal, Martin Rees, taking a look at the Future of Space: Manned and Robotic. His vision for its potential was awe-inspiring, and wide-ranging: quite definitely an ardent supporter for unmanned space flight. During this century, the entire solar system will be explored and mapped by robots. Extraterrestrial superstructures such as space stations and solar energy collectors will be built autonomously. Then there is space mining. And space tourism.

The opportunity is clearly out of this world.

Tech4Good

But it’s not just about the money. There’s also the social impact. This has been the big theme of all of the London Tech Week events we’ve been at this week, kicking off with the focus on 2030Vision and its Global Goals initiative at CogX. From farming to food production, the impact is being felt in a variety of areas.

Purely from a practical perspective, there’s clear ‘good’ in using robots rather than humans in a range of situations. Machine learning allows robots to ‘think’ for themselves, performing our dull, dirty or unsafe tasks. Hazardous environments are an obvious one: radioactive areas, land mine clearance or the extreme depths and pressures of deep seas. And deep space.

Good old Boaty McBoatface comes into her own here. Measuring Artic sea ice - and thence climate change - is not for the faint-hearted. My kids were thrilled to see the Autosub Long Range in pride of place at Driverless. Robots are now also being used to map the sea bed; crucial for the offshore wind industry. Autonomous drones could deliver medicines into war zones. Floating robot rafts could save Venice.

Human Robotic Interaction?

In a more everyday usecase, Starship is trialling food delivery robots. And in Iceland, there are takeaway delivery drones. Both retail and hospitality are new arenas for robotics. And this paves the way for an entirely new field of robotics: Robots in the Environment. We’re going to need an entirely new blueprint to determine how these robots interact with humans as they go about their day to day jobs. Watch this space!

Ethical concerns continue to be rife. Philosopher Karina Vold from the Letherhulme Centre for Future Intelligence spoke eloquently around these issues at the Driverless launch, and it was also the subject of much debate at CogX. How much control are we willing to transfer to robots? Who is responsible when it goes wrong? Who pays? How do we attribute Value? How do we make good ethical decisions? When do we intervene?

Many are also worried they’ll replace us in the workplace: it’s often the first objection people will raise, and of course a question I was asked at CogX. However, this isn’t in fact the case. Our jobs will evolve and adapt to include robots; changing and improving the way we work - and creating new jobs which we simply cannot imagine today - rather than making us redundant.

But one thing is clear. We’ve only scratched the surface of what robots with AI can do - both on earth, and within the space industry. We’re set for Infinity, and BEYOND. Sooner than we think. Hold tight!