The Future is Now – Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality are Emerging to Dominate New Systems and Capabilities

As Yogi Berra once observed, “making predictions is difficult, particularly if it involves the future.” But in this case, the future is now.

Consider the following scenario:
The new and enhanced attack vehicle has just sustained an intense firefight. With the enemy in retreat the commander asks the system itself for a damage report. In a Siri-like voice, it responds that there was limited damage but that the vehicle can return to base but at a lower speed. The commander can see from the main display a 360 degree image with a virtual display of enemy resources ( from drone communications) superimposed. Central command also receives the images and directs the drone to oversee the egress with its missiles. Base maintenance crews have been alerted to the damage and have the replacement parts waiting. On return the vehicle system will guide maintenance to the location of the damage and illustrate how to reach it. The commander appears as a virtual image within actual Central Command and is debriefed while he is still in the field.

The implications for space applications are staggering. Interactions between home based and space based activities – particularly for unmanned missions where the likelihood of experiencing unplanned events – are best developed by using AI (wherein the unmanned system learns from home based interactions) and with AR interactions wherein home based participants can experience the actual space experience.

What I mean by AI learning might be explained by the following example. Have two different Google users Google the same question on their respective computers. What the search turns up will be different and each will be based on past inquiries.

Does this sound like a battlefield of the future or a deep space program? Perhaps so. But the technology described herein is already available today. Changing and disruptive markets create threats and opportunities for those that develop and sell supporting technologies. Ultimately, the military and other COTS users are the beneficiaries of technologies that are driven by commercial successes. Let’s look at history. Forty years ago the most frequently dialed phone number was 411 – thousands of operators stood by to offer directory assistance more than 1 billion times a year. If one traveled by car one had better have a good map – or even better a Rand McNally Atlas. As the cost of technology came down, new markets rose to meet the needs of a demanding customer base. Giant screen TVs and CD players (later to become DVD and beyond) were initially prohibitively expensive. But as demand increased, the price points came down to where such technologies gained commodity status.

Back then, I had a built-in (non-portable) mobile phone – a monster compared with today’s equipment. It was costly ($6500 in 2017 dollars) plus one needed a satellite connection (again costly) but essential to my work. I only allowed a few people to have my direct number, so I relied on a pager to screen my calls. The pager industry was a very healthy and competitive one. Times have changed due to newer technologies, but today even the concept of what new products and capabilities is changing. In truth, possessing devices is no longer important. Just the technology that permits the acquisition.

Why would one want to own anything when you can lease it? Why assume the responsibility to maintain and store something? Even more appealing is that service upgrades and multiple levels of information are available. That’s what made Cable subscriptions enticing. Unfortunately, you are stuck with the TV you already have.

But that will also be changing. Look around and you will see that technology markets are moving to a subscription model away from a purchasing model. Today you don’t need a library of favorite music – you have Spotify the world’s largest collection of sreamable music. Same for Amazon Kindle which has a library of 900,000 titles. You can use Playstation games without owning any of them. Or play online against others.

Consider the following:
Uber is the world’s largest taxi service yet doesn’t own a single vehicle. Using your smartphone it knows where to send your ride and can contact the driver closer to you. Regular taxi drivers need to buy expensive (and limited) tokens and were previously guaranteed a monopoly for their services. Netflix, and now cable services allow me to watch a movie without owning it (some cable providers allow one to record the movie). Once upon a time Blockbuster Video allowed one to check out and rent from a huge selection of titles. The caveat was that you needed to visit the store. Online stores are beating out traditional brick-and- mortar stores with their high overheads. To be honest I only visit the actual stores if I need to touch and feel the actual product. Then I go home and buy online.

How can such stores compete with Alibaba and their easy to use sales capabilities? Alibaba, notwithstanding their retail sales volume, carries no inventory. Arbnb, the world’s largest provider of room rentals, owns no real estate.

Future consumer markets (including hand held, auto, communication, robotics, etc.) to which embedded developers will be concentrating their skills and to which users of such developments will be targeting their competitive efforts will be migrated away from product ownership to services that incorporate such products.

Already we have AI deeply embedded in our products and technologies. Depending on the smart phone one subscribes to (in reality a smart phone is merely an advanced portable computer that happens to permit phone calls – most folks are using SMS instead) one can get information from Siri, Alexa, or Cortana, among other voice recognition technologies. Video cameras are everywhere – that’s how we caught the Boston Marathon bombers. Face recognition software is deployed in every airport and entry port of the US. It is claimed that Facebook has an AI capability that can view a photo of any person on earth and correctly identify them out of 3 billion people.

Not having a top secret clearance I can’t say for sure, but I would be shocked if these capabilities aren’t already being incorporated into military systems. The newest and most impressive technology to find its way into the pantheon of commercial use, and thereby becoming a disruptive technology for today’s existing markets is Augmented Reality (AR). Unlike Virtual Reality (VR), AR creates images one can see within their own actual space. PTC for example, working with a motorcycle manufacturer, created a digital twin in parallel with the actual motorcycle. On the motorcycle is an icon which can be imaged to show the digital twin which contains the entire user’s manual and the ability to test the system and detect problems. The digital image (which is seen as part of the local environment) will also present a detailed guide for the user to take apart the machine to locate the problem area (such as a broken wire).

Facebook’s AI group is said to be working on an AR capability that will allow virtual individuals in meetings across the globe to appear as if they were all together in your own office. EMF believes that AR apps will dominate the new world of technology by 2021. AR and AI are not stand alone concepts. Certainly MEMS, DDS, wireless technologies, storage and protocol analysis will find new requirements and opportunities for vendors as well as for the COTS developers that will be needed to integrate them for deployment.

Every year we conduct the EMF Executive Survey of Embedded Developers which gives us an interactive ability to track what developers are using, what they think they will be using, and what makes live easier for them and what makes life more difficult for them. Over the past 3 years we have tabulated nearly 4000 responses. In addition, EMF is in touch with cutting edge developments that can have a disruptive impact on currently used (and sold) technologies. We believe that this will change the demands that will be made on embedded and COTS developers.

Author Bio
Jerry Krasner, Ph.D., MBA is Chief Analyst and Vice President of Embedded Market Forecasters. A recognized authority with over 30 years of embedded industry experience, Jerry was formerly Chairman of Biomedical Engineering at Boston University, and Chairman of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Wentworth Institute of Technology. He was President of Biocybernetics, Inc. and CLINCO, Inc., Executive Vice President of Plasmedics, Inc.and Director of Medical Sciences for the Carnegie-Mellon Institute of Research. He has published extensively in medical, business and engineering journals. He successfully filed and received more than eleven 510k applications.