Autonomous Things

Autonomous Things is an emerging term for the technological developments that are expected to bring computers into the physical environment as autonomous entities without human direction, freely moving and interacting with humans and other objects. Though self-driving vehicles take the front seat when we talk about autonomous things, autonomous robots and drones can also make a difference for businesses. These technologies can lead to partial or full automation of tasks involving humans today.

What are Autonomous Things?

The term “autonomous things” is being used more and more in the technology world to talk about phenomena powered by the latest advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning. Autonomous things are things that work autonomously without human guidance or direct intervention.

Here are some examples of how autonomous things are being used:

- Intel’s use of a drone swarm for the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games in 2018.

- A plan for Dubai to use autonomous police vehicles that can deploy their drones for surveillance.

- Cooperative merge scenarios by Honda and other car manufacturers, in which vehicles communicate with one another to optimize traffic flows.

Some Examples in various fields:-

  • Social Robots - A robot designed to socialize with humans such as pet robots.

  • Space - A space probe can deal with the surface of a planet to collect samples and are also very useful where there is a considerable amount of lag in communication with systems on earth.

  • Delivery Bot - A robot can deliver a package to an address given real-world conditions such as weather, traffic, landscape.

  • Agriculture - A system that would take care of crops and give special attention to unhealthy ones.

  • Home automation - A vacuum cleaner that may navigate irregular spaces, people, pets to clean the floor.

  • Automation - An AI system that may differentiate between reusable and recyclable material in the garbage and separate them.

What are the challenges faced by autonomous things?

We have seen how the autonomous thing is a hot topic with great business potential.

Then why don’t we see these vehicles and drones everywhere?

Some of these setbacks include:

  • Environmental Conditions-

The weather, road, pedestrian, and even traffic can affect how autonomous vehicles and drones operate. For these vehicles to drive seamlessly and safely, their sensors have to work accurately at all times. This may not always be possible due to environmental elements.

Also, there is still no perfect sensor since these cars will require a wide range of sensors to properly see and understand the space they’re driving. Sensors like radar help in detecting complex shapes, which makes the vehicle drive through fog or rain.

  • Cybersecurity-

Since these systems are computers themselves, it leaves them vulnerable to a hack. Their driving mechanisms may be manipulated thereby putting the passenger at risk. A cybercriminal may also attack the system and demand ransom before letting a user in or out of their cars, or even control the vehicle to a different location.

What’s more, there’s the potential for unauthorized access to be gained to driving information such as where the user goes to, how often, etc.

  • Regulations-

Regulations have time and again been pointed out as a major limitation to advancements in technology. When it comes to drones there are strict regulations to limit where these devices are used and how high they can fly. These limitations may remain until those in power are confident that drones are ready to be a part of the real world.

There’s also the limitation on drones flying in populated areas without a remote pilot.

  • Accident Liability-

While autonomous cars aim to improve the way we drive, it does not totally eliminate the potential for accidents to occur. It may be difficult to determine who is liable for accidents caused by these cars since a software controls how the car makes decisions and generally, how it drives.

In line with that, newer designs of autonomous vehicles do not have a dashboard or steering wheel. As such, the passenger is left totally helpless when an accident is about to occur. The lack of basic components such as the brake pedal, accelerator pedal, and steering wheel means that power is totally left in the hands of the vehicle. Passengers may also be absent-minded while being driven to escape potential dangers.

  • Costs-

Compared to traditional automatic or manual vehicles that need to be controlled by a driver, autonomous vehicles are more expensive. The high cost that comes with driving an autonomous vehicle may deter consumers from buying it and at the same time affect its adoption.

Leading Companies Using Autonomous Things

Some of the leading companies focused on autonomous vehicles or drones include:

  • Tesla

Tesla is a leading company in the autonomous vehicles market that is looking at self-driving cars that will free humans from driving themselves.

  • Ford

Ford Motor Company has been designing vehicles for 116 years. And the American company is towing the path of Tesla by looking to launch autonomous vehicles. Ford partnered with autonomous vehicle platform Argo AI to test self-driving vehicles.

  • Volvo

Swedish multinational manufacturing company Volvo is also not lagging when it comes to self-driving cars. Volvo collaborated with Uber to introduce a variant of the XC90 SUV.

  • GM Cruise

Cruise is a company that designs self-driving cars at General Motors’ (GM) manufacturing plant. The San Francisco-based company was founded in 2013, and it focuses on designing cars purpose-built for self-driving.

  • BMW

Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW) is very much interested in driverless cars. The company has been operating for 104 years now, and according to the German company, its engineers and technicians have been working on driver assistance systems.

  • Baidu

Baidu may not be majorly focused on the car industry, however, China’s search engine giant has also found autonomous vehicles useful. In 2018, the Internet-related services company reportedly drove over 1 million miles in 13 cities in China.

  • Waymo

Waymo is an American company that designs autonomous driving vehicles and it is a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., the same company that owns Google. Waymo was founded in 2016, and in 2018, it received $2.25 billion in funding from several venture capitalists, strategic operators, and private equity firms.

  • Airdata UAV

Airdata UAV was founded in 2015, and it is a company specially focused on developing drones. Airdata has also adopted autonomous technology to improve the way drones are controlled and how they operate. According to the company, it offers its services to tens of thousands of small-to-large drone fleet operators. And these operators are in almost 200 countries worldwide.


The emergence of autonomous things over the last few years has been an exciting development within technology that is only going to become more innovative and more and more exciting as time goes on. Driven by the likes of big data, AI, and cloud technologies, no doubt that as these technologies advance autonomous things are only going to continue to advance at a breakneck speed.

The future of autonomous things relies heavily on the continued research and development behind big data, AI, and cloud technologies.

Autonomous things are fundamentally important because they represent the first real untethering of machines from explicit human guidance.

Written by Shubham Rattra University Institute of Engineering and Technology, Panjab University

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