2022 Predictions: What do a robotic dog, a 3D printer, and Blue Origin, have in common?
You’ve seen the videos of Spot and the other somewhat creepy creations from Boston Dynamics. You may already have used parts created in a 3D printer, and you certainly watched Blue Origin’s rocket boosters peg their landings in the desert of West Texas.
What do these things have in common? Solid state accelerometers. Inexpensive, accurate, and fast becoming ubiquitous, these slivers of silicon are just part of a wave of innovation that is transforming our lives, industry, and transportation.
There is a direct arc from the industrial revolution, ushered in by Thomas Savery who was the first to imply steam to do work. That led to the piston steam engine of Thomas Newcomen which led to railways. Railways are tied to telegraph wires which were deployed along their routes. The telegraph led to telephones, radio, and TV.
The invention of the transistor was quickly recognized as having great import. Working at Bell Labs, John Bardeen, William Shockley and Walter Brattain invented the first point-contact transistor. They were awarded the Nobel Prize in physics only nine years later. By 1959 Mohamed Atalla and Dawon Kahnginvented invented the metal–oxide–semiconductor field-effect transistor (MOSFET). The world knew that it was going to change everything and indeed, it ushered in the computer age we live in.
Digital control systems began to replace analog relays in the ’80s. Sensors began to get smaller and cheaper. An inflection point occurred when Steve Jobs introduced an iPhone with digital accelerometers. The primary feature this enabled was being able to turn the phone and see the display in landscape. But the success of the iPhone led to cheaper and cheaper prices for accelerometers produced in the millions.
Almost all new technology that interfaces with the physical world is driven by the combination of control systems with sensors. Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, 3D printing, robots, drones, hover boards, autonomous weapon systems, and self driving vehicles.
This mega-trend will drive innovation for the rest of our lives and will change society as drones populate our skies, reusable rockets become common place, custom manufacturing becomes affordable, and passenger vehicles become self-driving.
Policy makers should plan now for these changes. Most simple labor will be replaced by robotic systems. Economies will flourish but hair stylists, dentists, craftspeople, line workers, and landscapers will be thrown out of work.