Machine Safety: enhanced safety networks, the Internet of things, and autonomous safety

Does anybody remember HAL 9000, the computer that controlled the universe in the science fiction movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey? Is autonomous safety where we’re headed with networks and technology for integrated machine control and safety automation? [HAL 9000 was not OSHA approved.]


Machine safety and HAL 9000: Does anybody remember HAL 9000, the computer that controlled the universe in the science fiction movie, "2001: A Space Odyssey"? Is autonomous safety where we’re headed with networks and technology for integrated machine control & safety automation? [HAL 9000 wasn't OSHA approved. I wonder if they did risk assessment?]

Likewise, who would have guessed 20 years ago that we’d be where we are today in machine safety?

Networks and machine control technology have rapidly advanced over the past 20 years. Safety certified protocols have been developed by various suppliers linking devices, logic processors, machines, peripheral equipment and multiple machines. Even wireless networks can now be safety certified for use in manufacturing. All of these developments have rapidly occurred over the past 12 years since NFPA 79; 2002 was released introducing safety PLCs.

Rethink Robotics - Baxter can be operated next to humans, with appropriate precautions, the manufacturer says.Since 2002 and in parallel, there have been significant developments in robot technology wherein human and robot can now safely work side by side under certain conditions. Separately, there have also been advances in artificial intelligence for robot systems which could enable them to eventually have proactive behaviors, planning their motion according to a dynamic environment.

Universal Robots says its robots can operate with humans in certain applications. Through the work on artificial intelligence we also understand that machine learning is actively under way. Machine learning includes the study of computer algorithms so as to continuously improve operations. As I understand it, algorithms are generally processed using chip technology. So, as more and more chip level technology is highly distributed around a machine, in combination with modern networks, two questions come to my mind (as I’m reminded by HAL): 

1. Will machines and networks eventually be able to think?

2. Will machines and networks eventually be able to do what we as thinking humans can do?

In this day and age we all should already know that universities compete around the globe with autonomous flying robots without human intervention. We have also arrived with enhanced safety networks and we’re surrounded by the Internet of things (IoT). So, for machine control, can autonomous machine safety be far behind?

Has this presented you with any new perspectives? Do you have some specific topic or interest that we could cover in future blog posts? Add your comments or thoughts to the discussion by submitting your ideas, experiences, and challenges in the comments section below.

Related articles:

Machine Safety: Industry 4.0 and how it could impact machine safety!

Internet of Things - refers to uniquely identifiable objects and their virtual representations in an Internet-like structure. The term Internet of Things was proposed by Kevin Ashton in 1999. Industry 4.0 - Wikipedia

Industry 4.0: Agility in Production?

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