When most people hear the word “autonomous,” they think of autonomous driving. While fully autonomous driving isn’t yet supported on public roads, partial autonomy is already functional, with Tesla vehicles providing driving support or even allowing autopilot that transfers control to drivers in an emergency. The technology to handle fully autonomous driving continues to evolve, with AI developers in the United States, Great Britain, and France working toward achieving Level 5 autonomy, or fully autonomous driving, in 2020.
The next steps in autonomous driving are likely to involve autonomous taxis, with Tesla declaring its intention to have 1 million auto-taxis on the road by the end of 2020 (though lack of regulatory approval may hinder reaching this goal). Another major advance in the field is platooning, with companies like Peloton using swarm intelligence to govern the group behavior of “platoons” of trucks that move together safely because they share intelligence and control between all members of the platoon.
Automobiles aren’t the only autonomous things moving technology into the future as one of 2020’s technology trends, however. Autopilots have provided support to human operators of airplanes for many years, and autonomous ships are also in widespread use. Autonomous robots and drones already handle functions that humans used to perform, and autonomous appliances are bringing AI-powered physical devices into ordinary homes.
Drones not only handle delivery but are also helpful in all sorts of data collection. Military drones deliver real-time intelligence, and ambulance drones are on the horizon to help provide the data need to improve search and rescue operations. On the scientific side, meteorologists and climate scientists have recently started relying on drones to collect data about oceanic and atmospheric conditions. Drones are also being used for surveying and home security. In 2020, look to see further uses of drones for data collection, including as non-invasive ways to track endangered species so that researchers can obtain up-to-the-minute information.
Robotic processes also represent a key area of growth for the autonomous things field in 2020. Smart robots make use of machine learning in manufacturing and assembling, and delivery robots have radically changed the way warehousing is handled in many industries. Expect more growth in this field in the coming year, especially in areas where replacing humans with robots provides an added layer of human safety.
Autonomous things aren’t limited to large machinery, however. Watch for the rise of autonomous shops in 2020, as tech startups bring use machine learning to bring automated self-checkout to a new level. In the forefront of this trend is Amazon, whose new Amazon Go stores tabulate purchases as the customer removes items from the shelf, removing the need for cashiers or indeed for any type of checkout system at all.
Much of the growth of autonomous things depends on factors outside technological development. Changes in government regulations are key to permitting autonomous delivery to be developed, with Amazon and other companies seeking to use autonomous vehicles, including drones, for package delivery.