It has been said that it takes about 30 years for a radically new technology to come into mainstream use. The first microprocessor was invented in 1971. The first airplane was invented in 1903. Yes, there’s a lot of fudge factor in there – single chip vs. multi-chip, powered and controlled vs. un powered or just straight flight – and there is always a lot of ground work before the “invented” date. You can spend a lot of debate on just what constitutes “mainstream use” as well, but essentially, the rule holds about as true as Moore’s Law.
Today, it is the independent robot or embedded intelligence. Most of the boards we assemble have some sort of microprocessor onboard. We build up a lot of control, sensor and communications boards. These are the building blocks for automated systems; robotics of sorts. We focus on the process, not the application, so there are a lot of other devices rolling through our shop as well, but the embedded intelligence / robotics probably take up the majority of engineering resources today.
I ran across this article recently that brings the point home. The text has a military focus but it is not intended as a political statement of any sort. It’s just that in times of conflict, the military tends to be the earliest of early adopters. What I find fascinating, ironic and a bit scary is the humanity extended toward little rolling machines that this article illustrates.
“…a droid hospital in Iraq, that repairs about 400 broken or "wounded" droids a week. About that often, the staff there will have to deal with one or more teary eyed troops, carrying the blasted remains of their droid, and wanting to know if their little guy can be rebuilt”
This is what we are all doing, whether we realize it or not. The children born today are of the last generation that will need to learn to drive a car. The last generation that will be able to make a career flying airplanes is already in the air. Most really complex surgeries already use robotic augmentation. Home appliances like robotic vacuum cleaners and mops are leveraging that military experience into the civilian world.
I saw my first personal computer as a youth in the late ‘70s and the world is very different today. But 30 years from now, it will be almost unrecognizable. We, my friends, are in the thick of it.
Not now, but soon.