When NASA JPL’s Perseverance successfully landed on Mars it marked yet another milestone in humanity’s efforts to discover more about the red planet’s secrets. It also marked a major milestone for Wind River, with Perseverance becoming the fourth rover on Mars to run on VxWorks technology. Perseverance is the ultimate intelligent system, on its mission to look for signs of ancient microbial life, and collect and seal samples of Martian rock and soil.
At 130 million miles from earth, Perseverance has to make decisions and actions mostly on its own. The rover used its ‘brains’ to take photos and determine the best landing site using image comparisons. The rover also has a second internal robotic arm, acting as a ‘lab assistant’ to the external arm, managing the samples and supplying the external arm with new sample tubes.
The conditions necessary for these systems to exist, thrive and react to somewhat unexpected scenarios is what makes Perseverance the perfect example of an intelligent system. It is entirely alien when compared to human capabilities, able to compute, predict, sense and eventually connect from the very farthest edge back to earth. But what Perseverance will teach us is not solely applicable to an interplanetary scenario, it is also applicable to our own industries and environments.
Machines help us see what is possible
Perseverance is the perfect example of machines working in both mission-critical ways and environments to deliver knowledge to advance mankind. It could take over eleven minutes for the signals sent by Perseverance to come back from Mars to earth, meaning Perseverance must largely act autonomously. As Perseverance continues to work and explore new worlds, it should inspire our own new machine economy, focused on near latency-free digital feedback loops to deliver value to limitless use cases across numerous vertical industries.
If Perseverance can operate almost autonomously millions of miles from earth, then imagine what is possible in our own environments, with latency restrictions removed. In fact, our intelligent systems world is set to take off quickly with distributed cloud a key trend that is set to enhance low-latency scenarios. 5G and edge-cloud environments also create the perfect frontier for the realisation of use cases like autonomous vehicles, robots on farms, energy exploration and management in truck trains, on ships and in the air.
In fact, as we approach an increasingly hyper-automated applications-driven world that operates from distributed cloud environments, intelligent systems at the edge become the expected, not the unexpected. These systems will be a pathway to building digital scale and competitiveness for organisations where embedded machines, software, and intelligence work together in near real time to do tasks, pass information or deliver services through the cloud. By enhancing them further, infusing them with AI and ML capabilities, we’ll see organisations truly capitalise on the opportunities of data rich systems and services that anticipate and predict multiple outcomes.
A world of intelligent systems
Perseverance will be as inspirational to the idea of an intelligent systems world as NASA was to the idea of leaving Earth’s orbit. It will be hugely influential in expanding our imaginations for what can be achieved as we enter a world defined by intelligent systems, 5G and edge-cloud architectures. Enterprises should eagerly go beyond their own boundaries and explore software-driven systems that deliver on the dynamic needs of their business, employees and customers. Take for example robotics used in the manufacturing of a car on a smart factory floor within a 5G campus. Through the robot’s own intelligent system and sensors, it can communicate with the server hosted at the network edge in real time to process and analyse data, optimising its performance and predicting potential parts failures or conducting predictive maintenance. This can be crucial both in terms of mitigating costly performance degradations and in maintaining personal safety for those people working in the factory.
Imagine as well, being in the elevator business and using the elevator as a sensor, gathering data on usage and movement patterns of people in the building, and using said data to bolster the building’s security. If sensors can monitor and prevent expensive and highly inconvenient repairs by anticipating possible parts failures and conducting predictive maintenance, then the economics of the elevator business and the nature of conversations about the value of the elevator go far beyond the past 100 years of highly focused expectations. Going even further, imagine connecting that data securely from one elevator to others in the city (or other cities), and being able to look for similar patterns in near real time to enhance knowledge for new product or service design, or even to lower ownership costs for users across tens of thousands of similar elevators.
However, organisations looking to gain a competitive advantage and capitalise on the potential of an intelligent systems first approach cannot expect this to be a natural evolution. Enterprises must be leaders in their own industries, and ready themselves for this new intelligent systems world, making strides to discover the unknown, upskilling developer teams to build flexible, adaptable systems for increasingly connected environments.
NASA has amplified the sense of possibilities for an intelligent systems-first world that we will all benefit from. But enterprises have an opportunity to set a precedent in their own industries. Enterprises must be brave in their own discovery of what is possible. As intelligent edge systems proliferate, enterprises will need to develop systems that are adaptable over their lifecycle to meet requirements as needs evolve. 5G and the edge will realise and host a next generation of use cases which our intelligent systems must be built around to make our visions of the future and what is possible a reality.