The 2018 Tech Vision “Internet of Thinking” trend highlights the challenges businesses must meet to deliver intelligent experiences, create intelligent processes, and unleash the intelligent enterprise. From collaborations with robots on factory floors, to “invisible” interactions between medical devices and our bodies, intelligent interactions with technology now happen everywhere—and in every moment.
There’s one major common factor among all of these types of interactions: dynamic, unpredictable environments. Technology is at its most powerful when it works where people are, whether that’s at a desk, on a factory floor, or inside their skull preventing seizures. But to make that possible, technology must be able to react on the fly to varying needs from people.
Humans and machines will always be more powerful together than either of us working on our own. #TechVision2018
Nowhere is this more apparent than in human-robot collaborations. As smart, flexible, affordable robots continue to emerge, they open up exciting possibilities for teams of humans and robots working together. With these collaborations, companies can reimagine many processes for execution, dividing up work in entirely new ways. But bringing this opportunity to life requires fluid mechanisms for the human and robot teammates to adapt their plans dynamically, as conditions dictate. If you need a robot to stop what it’s doing and help you with a task, for example, you don’t want to have to sit down at a keyboard and type out a command. You want to be able to call for it with your voice, or gesture for it to join you, just like you would with a human colleague. Similarly, if the robot doesn’t understand something or needs help to complete a task, it needs to be able to tell you that in a way you can understand.
The Digital Experiences R&D group at Accenture Labs is tackling this challenge today, with a set of experimental tools and techniques for integrating commercially-available technologies into the human-robot relationship. One example of their efforts uses a sleek wireless armband to enable gesture control of robotic teammates: The armband reads the electrical activity in your muscles to determine what kind of gestures you’re making with your hands. Accenture Labs’s Human Robot Interaction (HRI) system then instantly translates the gesture into a command that the robot understands. Accenture’s system also provides a HRI control center display, which shows that your commands have been detected, and indicates the robot’s response. So you can use the universal hand gesture for “come here” to a robot and have it travel to your side to help you—even if it’s in the next room, or on the other side of a busy factory floor.
“Maybe you’ve got a robot that’s distributing packages throughout a warehouse as part of an hour-long planned routine, but you need help getting a heavy parcel onto a truck that’s departing in the next five minutes,” explains R&D Associate Principal Taurean Dyer. “That robot isn’t any help to you if you have to wait an hour for it to come back. So you wave it over, just like you would ask a human co-worker to help you, and it dynamically changes its plans to work with you.”
Alex Kass, a Labs Fellow in the Digital Experiences group, explains the group’s goals.
“This is part of a broader effort we’re undertaking to democratize the process of transforming processes that used to be either fully automated or fully manual,” explains Kass. “We’re transforming them into processes where humans and robots work together, with each doing what it does best.
“Our Human Robot Teaming (HRT) effort is looking at several issues,” continues Kass, “From how HRT plans and processes can be more easily defined, to how to use extended reality to allow humans and robots to practice these processes before they execute them in the real world, to supporting HRT interaction during execution in the dynamic, unstructured environment. There are a lot of exciting challenges.”
Humans and machines will always be more powerful together than either of us will be working on our own. But to achieve our collective potential, humans and robots must be able to understand and communicate with each other in a way that’s natural for us both. Technology that delivers truly intelligent interactions—that’s the Internet of Thinking.
For more information about the Accenture Labs Digital Experiences group, visit our website. To request a demo or information session about the Human Robot Teaming effort, contact Alex Kass at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Find out more about the Internet of Thinking trend and read the full 2018 Technology Vision at https://www.accenture.com/technologyvision.