2020: Future automation

Engineering future: Ambition to change the world is essential as automation spreads into areas beyond industrial applications. See three key technology advances expected by 2020 and a sampling of those advancements today, including mobile robotics, as explained by Control Engineering China.

By Andy Zhu September 3, 2014

Control Engineering China (CEC) has witnessed strong growth in the industrial control and automation business in China, and automation will continue to expand beyond the industry in accelerated fashion as we approach 2020. Internet of things (IoT), system integration, and engineering services will accompany a broadening of automation into other markets.

Many enterprises, both local and overseas, have gained business success and rapid growth in the Chinese market. Most importantly, industrial enterprises improved product quality and production efficiency through successfully deploying advanced automation in the production process, generating enormous commercial value. Increasing efficiency is solidifying China’s status as a large-scale factory for the world. With fierce market competition, the automation market in China has entered the adjusting phase where growth is slowing. Reliable automation products with long product life cycles are not short-term consumables anymore. Will another golden decade be cultivated in the Chinese automation market after this period of adjustment? Or will development level off? Different people have different answers to these questions.

Trends of 2020

Looking six years into the future for automation engineers, predicting the trends in 2020 will enlighten our next steps.

1. The Internet of things (IoT) now in full swing will enter a high-growth path by 2020. In a time when people and things are all connected by network, automation engineers and end users will care most about the stability and reliability of the industrial network. The intellectualization, collection, and detection of data will mostly be resolved. The harder part is the troubleshooting and reliability of the industrial network. If situations arise in the network, whether in the business network or in the network controlling production, the whole operation of the enterprise will confront difficulties and hinder decision making in real time because control engineers rely on the industrial network for assessment and indicators. The primary concern for engineers will be the stability and reliability of the networked automation.

2. Future automation engineers will no longer be limited to the field of production. Many automation projects, for example, will be implemented within the so-called Smart City. In transportation, buildings, and health care, future automation projects will have closer proximity to people’s everyday lives. The engineers’ expertise in automation will be applied in many nontraditional fields. These innovations will drastically change people’s lives, adding convenience. The automation system will become an important foundation for the future construction and operation of intellectualized and automated societies.

3. In new markets where changes are created continuously by new applications, the automated system and system integration will become a necessary part of the solution. The innovation and development of products and engineering services will become primary work for automation engineers. In some new applications, artificial intelligence will become the spotlight that reflects the core value of automation. 

See the future today

The year 2020 is not far away, and the next rapid developing cycle of automation applications might arrive sooner than expected.

As a U.S. business with a global Internet search engine, Google possesses the most abundant advertising business in the world and continues to advance in automation-related technologies. Google Glass, launched in 2012, is undoubtedly a great potential platform for mobile monitoring displays. This year, 2014, the driverless vehicle project announced by Google started with Sebastian Thrun, the director of the artificial intelligence laboratory at Stanford University. In 2005, he led his student group to participate in a successful driverless vehicle project launched by the U.S. Army in the desert. More recently, Google’s driverless vehicle received a driver’s license in Nevada, and attended the famous NASCAR competition, among the most elite of human-engineering sports.

In addition, the Space Aircraft No. 2 of Virgin Atlantic Airways successfully completed its second trial flight in 2013, and the company expects commercial space aviation as early as in 2014. That means outer space travel and gradual realization of high-speed commercial global flight.

On screen in many science fiction films, the immersion VR platform is a finished product in the innovation lab of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Big data and cloud computing offer the magic power of prediction, making this another future invention with mature mass applications today.

The popularization of each of these landmark applications has created new opportunities for the development of automation. 

Opportunities, automation, integration

At present, China is still in a phase of rapid development, and changes have been taking place everywhere. Some of those changes or variables are cultivated within China and from the global market. Looking to 2020, the automation industry in China has many opportunities. Those involved need to see beyond any challenges and look to future impacts. In this age of rapid technology development with effective integration, Google and Apple have created markets for client applications, realizing the Blue Ocean Strategy with near-miraculous value. Maybe the next great technology opportunity will come from China.

By 2020, however, rapid acceleration will bring such opportunities frequently. Sufficient engineering talent in China will release their huge energy to create marvelous value. In the mean time, we still need the determination to improve ourselves and the ambition to change the world. 

Mobile robotics

On July 16, 2014, Google appointed Alan Mulally, former CEO of Ford Motor Co., as a member of its board of directors, anticipating that he can speed development of Google’s self-driving car business with his experience in the automobile industry. In addition to Google, many traditional automobile manufacturers, including Ford, have started investing in research and development for technologies for self-driving cars.

– Andy Zhu Xu (Zhu Xu) is editor-in-chief of Control Engineering China and submitted this for Control Engineering’s 60th anniversary issue. Edited by Mark T. Hoske and Joy Chang, CFE Media, Control Engineering, mhoske@cfemedia.com.



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