Fighter jets that debuted in the last 10 years or so have a unique problem: flying in control enough to keep the pilot alive. Fly-by-wire technology helps them do this.
In an older airplane (or new general aviation aircraft), a set of cables and pulleys connect the yoke (a plane’s steering wheel) or the stick and rudder pedals to the control surfaces like the ailerons, elevators, and the rudder. With fly-by-wire systems, those things are no longer connected. Inputs to controls are electronically sensed and communicated to the actuators and hydraulics that change the position of those three control surfaces mentioned.
These systems have become so advanced that it has changed the design of the airplane itself; huge elevon-type control surfaces can practically stop a plane on a dime in the air. There is no telling how much further the design will advance.
What the human designers remembered is that titanium and exotic materials endure stress much better than a human being. We have reached a point where the plane is so maneuverable that it could turn quickly enough to deliver enough G forces to kill the pilot. The fly-by-wire system will not let a pilot pull a maneuver that would be fatal to the pilot (or the plane).
You might be thinking, “but a drone doesn’t have to worry about that.” And you are right.
The new robot ways
If you follow the robotics market, you’ve heard the three D’s (dull, dirty, and dangerous) invoked when describing what kind of work a robot can do (or doesn’t dislike to do) that we can stop doing. But that is only scratching the nickel finish of the robotic world.
Think with me for a moment about a manufacturing market that would not have to accommodate the health, operating speed, and other limitation of we “carbon units” as they like to say in sci-fi flicks. Machine tools were designed to do their work with speed being a metric whose upper limit was how fast people could unload finished parts and scrap from the machine. It is still a consideration today, but think about tomorrow. If everything is automated, the automation and robot can go as fast as designers can imagine them to do it.
A good example of how things could change is in laser cutters. The laser needs to travel only at a certain speed (although they are amazingly fast these days). What if everything was automated and there was a robot for placement and part removal, and other advancements helping out (such as machine vision tied to the robot)? Now what is the speed limit? And what are the limitations to think about besides human speed? Some of those things would be metallurgical because you would need more power to cut the steel faster. You might need to cool the material along the way too. Some things would be governmental, because after a certain power threshold, a laser is considered a weapon or at least a controlled item. Some considerations would be physical. As that laser head zips along ever faster, what will we use to anchor the laser cutter to the floor? Won’t we need to move the weight of the cutting head to a more stationary location, and have just the tiniest cutting head pulling all those G’s?
Even the design of parts and products will change. We will switch from accommodating human speeds to accommodating blazing speeds. A robot/machine vision pairing along with effective end effectors will go 10 or 20 times faster than a human ever could in assembling or grinding, or doing any number of jobs that are mostly human-directed now. As the systems become autonomous there will be even greater gains for manufacturers.
We have discussed all the great downstream effects of an automated manufacturing ecosystem. But we need to consider all the upstream ramifications too, shouldered by machine tool providers.
I am pretty sure there is a media company president robot who will someday knock on my door and demonstrate how it can do my job in a tenth of the time. And I will be happy it showed up.