Smart machines, pervasive intelligence key for Industry 4.0 and beyond

Manufacturing facilities of the future are expected to take full advantage of what artificial intelligence has to offer.

Artificial and pervasive intelligence are paving the way for the transition into Industry 4.0 and are likely to have a lasting impact on the manufacturing sector.

Internet of Things (IoT) devices, mobility, and cloud services have given rise to smart machines.

Medical devices such as pacemakers, smartphones and tablets, security systems, and manufacturing equipment on the factory floor are only some examples of technologies which are becoming linked to Wi-Fi and the cloud, and this shift towards connectivity is a major element of Industry 4.0.

Industry 4.0 is the transition from traditional manufacturing processes and equipment to smart devices, IoT, machine-to-machine (M2M) technologies and data analytics.

While a shift towards modern solutions -- when implemented properly -- can result in better visibility on the factory floor and in supply chains, a boost in revenue and an uptick in efficiency, artificial intelligence (AI) may have the potential to push Industry 4.0 even further forward.

On Thursday, professional services company Deloitte analyst David Schatsky released a new report examining the part AI may play as a catalyst in the manufacturing sector to promote so-called "pervasive" intelligence and smart machines.

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AI is moving rapidly and annual shipments of AI-supporting devices is expected to increase from an estimated 79 million in 2017 to 1.2 billion by 2023. Companies including Intel, IBM, Microsoft, and Google are all involved in AI-related projects, and as AI becomes more advanced, these kinds of technologies also become more commonplace and pervasive.

AI is becoming embedded more frequently in everything from logistics and manufacturing to healthcare, transportation, and agriculture. While the solutions currently on the market may not be that advanced, the shift to M2M, IoT, and AI is expected to go much further in the industrial sector.

According to Deloitte, as AI leaves our data centers and is pushed out to devices themselves, these kinds of technologies will not need to rely on Internet connectivity in order to function.

This, in turn, will become a catalyst for change. Without the need for Internet connectivity, AI will be able to perform at the edge of networks, in low latency and in real-time. When it comes to manufacturing, AI and pervasive intelligence at the edge will offer vendors the opportunity to utilize a number of next-generation technologies.

"Lower latency and connectivity independence will enable all kinds of applications -- such as vehicle navigation and augmented reality and some healthcare applications -- that require an instantaneous response and robust performance even when connectivity is poor or not available," Deloitte says.

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The report suggests that robots, for example, can be dramatically improved by the use of M2M and AI, with embedded sensors making them safe to work alongside human employees.

"Early iterations of this new generation of collaborative robots relied primarily on cloud-hosted intelligence, but chipmakers and robotics companies are partnering to embed intelligence in computing resources on the factory floor or in robots themselves," the company says.

Deloitte also suggests that manufacturers can benefit from on-site intelligence provided by AI, whether on the factory floor or through cameras and drones on construction sites.

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Utilities could also make use of pervasive AI at the edge by creating networks of sensors, coupled with decision-making AI systems, able to monitor production, conditions, and energy flux in order to make calculations in real-time -- which could also improve energy outputs and act as guardians for the purpose of predictive maintenance.

"It will be several years before the pervasive intelligence trend has a significant macro impact on most industries," Schatsky says." But [...] the impacts could ultimately be significant. Devices with embedded intelligence will eventually become ubiquitous in commercial settings and consumers' lives, enabling entirely new levels of performance and efficiency."

"Companies should begin now to game out the potential impact of pervasive intelligence on their business and their industry to position themselves to reap the benefits," the executive added.

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