Self-driving cars, brick-laying robots: Technology’s future is now

September 13, 2016

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By Robert McCutcheon, Partner, US Industrial Products Sector Leader

I’ve blogged a lot about technology in the last couple of years, saying that companies need to think about and prepare for the innovations that have the potential to disrupt their businesses. But I’ve read some news in the past month that has made me rethink timing. I now see that technology is moving at lightning speed. For some businesses, it might even be too late to prepare. Others still have an opportunity. But it’s clear the future is becoming the now.

One story I found intriguing is about bricklaying robots. We’ve seen the tremendous growth of robots on the factory floor, in some cases virtually displacing all human workers. Now, there’s a bricklaying robot that can build houses in two days. The robot can lay 1,000 bricks an hour! And it can work in all conditions. One can argue about whether or not this is a good thing. But it has the potential to revolutionize construction. It makes it much cheaper and faster to build houses. Imagine how useful this could be in parts of the world that are poor and have large populations. An end to homelessness?

Another game-changing development in construction comes from Singapore. Scientists there say they’ve invented bendable concrete. This new material is purported to be “stronger and longer-lasting than regular concrete” and faster to use. It can be fabricated in a factory and then installed in pieces. So far it’s been tested only in a lab, but it could be on the market in less than four years.

On a more immediate front is that driverless cars are coming to Pittsburgh, my hometown, in the next few weeks. With a number of companies pushing for automated cars, it’s clear this was coming—but not quite so soon. Reportedly, Uber will have humans in the driver’s seat for some undetermined amount of time. My guess is those drivers won’t be there for long.

Certainly, tech companies have been investing heavily in driverless cars and have made great strides. What are auto makers to do? They could try to catch up by investing in autonomous technology, but it’s probably faster and less costly to join together with tech companies, as demonstrated in recent news. The future scenario is less clear. If driverless cars become popular (and let’s assume they do) will the auto companies still be in control of their own industry?

These are really exciting—and scary—times. I personally am looking forward to seeing how those driverless cars do in Pittsburgh. Will I feel more or less safe? And what will the drivers in the front seat be doing? Stay tuned.


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