Six Five hosts Daniel Newman and Patrick Moorhead talk with Rob High, IBM’s CTO for Edge Computing, and Mike Pollitt, Chief Sales Officer for Boston Dynamics, about robotics and how the technology is growing in importance and helping organizations collect data and drive and inform decisions.
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Patrick Moorhead: Hi, this is Pat Moorhead with Moor Insights & Strategy, and we are here for another Six Five In the IBM Booth. We’re here at Mobile World Congress 2022 in Barcelona. Let me introduce our co-host Daniel Newman. How are you, my friend?
Daniel Newman: I’m doing well. It’s good to be here. You’re not going to say more importantly now, are you?
Patrick Moorhead: I am. But more importantly, our guests, Mike from Boston Dynamics and Rob from IBM. Gentlemen, how you doing today?
Rob High: Very Good. How are you?
Mike Pollitt: Fantastic.
Patrick Moorhead: Good. I tell you what. I have never been more popular when Spot from Boston Dynamics walked up and did a cameo for one of our videos. I know he’s being a good boy right now.
Mike Pollitt: Yep.
Patrick Moorhead: But I’ll tell you, I thought I was popular, but it was actually Spot. But anyways, we are back at NWC. We’re live. We’re not virtual. It’s great to see people again.
Mike Pollitt: Yeah, it is.
Patrick Moorhead: I know. It’s great.
Daniel Newman: Yeah, it is good to be here. And by the way, you’re right about Spot. And yeah, we got a crowd.
Mike Pollitt: Yeah, Yeah.
Daniel Newman: And then it left and nobody stayed. So, very compelling is the moral of the story there.
Rob High: It’s deeply psychological. I think there’s something instinctual about it, it’s something that embodies that kind of cognition that attracts people and they just-
Mike Pollitt: Yeah.
Rob High: … they want to see it. They want to be a part of it.
Daniel Newman: Yeah, absolutely. So let’s talk about that. We’ve been talking probably for what feels like years now about data informing operations, but you guys, in the area you’re focused on with robotics; real robots, are starting to find your technology growing in importance and coming into organizations, collecting data and using it to drive and inform. What’s going on there?
Rob High: So I think the really important thing is dynamic sensing.
Mike Pollitt: Yes.
Rob High: So it’s not just about it being a robot, but-
Mike Pollitt: Yeah, we’ve all been pursuing IT/OT convergence for 20 years. A lot of industries have already taken advantage of a lot of the advancements around ML and AI.
Daniel Newman: Yeah.
Mike Pollitt: But a huge segment of our economy, the asset-intensive industries, haven’t been able to do that. If you look at the average age of all the equipment out there; it’s 26 years old, it doesn’t have sensor capability on it, so there’s no data. So we’re filling that gap so you can capture the data on the operational and maintenance aspects of all this equipment and then feed it into the great advancements that we’ve made around AI and ML.
Rob High: Yeah. I mean, think about these old machines with analog gauges on them.
Patrick Moorhead: Yeah.
Rob High: They’re not participating in the digital era., right? So how do you get access to that? You take something like Spot, who’s able to walk up to this, look at it, use visual analytics and recognition there to convert that analog value into something digital, that then we can then use in our automated processes.
Patrick Moorhead: You know, it’s interesting. I feel like intellectually we’ve figured that out, but there’s been a lot of challenges along the way. I’m curious, from the IBM point of view, how are you enabling this? How are you making this happen?
Rob High: So I think a couple things have happened that really created a breakthrough. First of all, it is the work that Boston Dynamics have done on creating mobility to bring in sensors into this environment. And that had to happen. I mean, if you have to put out a bunch of fixed cameras,-
Patrick Moorhead: Yeah.
Rob High: …you’re never going to get the coverage. You’re never going to get the resolution. And it really becomes hard. Combine that then with the breakthroughs that we’ve had in AI that have occurred over the last few years, where now we can literally take a model, run it on a relatively small edge device,-
Patrick Moorhead: Right.
Rob High: …pick up the video data off the camera and interpret what that really means, right, with some degree of precision. So we’ve taken those two things, specifically running it as an edge computing device. We do the inferencing there, on the edge, and then we transmit it back, to issue work orders, right? To get the people out that need to be there to go fix the fire extinguisher problem or fix the problem with the electrical system that’s creating these thermal anomalies, et cetera.
Mike Pollitt: It’s a perfect timing issue, to Rob’s point. The advancements in AI and the mobility platform comms comes into this. A few years ago, was the comms infrastructure there to support it? No. That was another aspect of it.
Daniel Newman: That’s interesting.
Mike Pollitt: And then all the push around IoT, customers are starting to realize that if they can achieve adoption, full adoption of IoT, the ROI benefits; uptime, throughput, reliability, is astronomical. So there’s a lot of focus on that, but they haven’t been able to really embrace it because of all the barriers we had before. This helps to break down a lot of those barriers.
Rob High: And one of the things about comms is that these things have to be wireless, right? You can’t drag a cable behind this robot as it traverses the six kilometers of manufacturing space. So it has to be wireless. The problem in the manufacturing space has been that things like wifi, that spectrum interferes with the operational equipment on the factory floor. So it wasn’t until things like 5G came along, that use spectrum that doesn’t have that interference, that really has unlocked the opportunity for us to wirelessly connect these things.
Patrick Moorhead: Wait, so there’s 5G on Spot?
Rob High: So we’ve actually added 5G on Spot through essentially a wireless modem, right?
Mike Pollitt: Yeah.
Rob High: So we literally take a mobile phone that’s 5G enabled and we attach it to the back of Spot’s back, and then we do a Wi-Fi hotspot over to the computer on that.
Patrick Moorhead: I had no idea.
Daniel Newman: That’s fun. You call that innovation, maybe? Yeah. [crosstalk] And by the way, very fitting for Mobile World, because everything here is 5G. By the way, I can’t believe we were not going to ask him a question about that. We were actually not going to ask you a 5G question. We’ve had a lot of that in this.
Rob High: Well, we answered it anyway. We just knew.
Daniel Newman: You found a way to loop it in. You found a way to bring it in. So thank you for that. That’s important. So let’s talk a little bit about the collaboration. I want to end this conversation on that topic. So you’re talking a lot about kind of the general what’s going on with this relationship, but people always want to hear examples. They want to understand specifically what are the use cases? What are some customer examples, if you could share any specific to the collaboration that’s going on between Boston Dynamics and IBM.
Mike Pollitt: Sure.
Rob High: Yeah. Do you want me to do it?
Mike Pollitt: Sure, absolutely.
Rob High: So one use case is fire extinguisher inspections, right? So every manufacturing site has to go out and make sure the fire extinguishers are in place, that the fire extinguisher is mounted properly, it’s properly charged, the hose is attached to it, that there’s no obstacles in front of it. Likewise, electrical problems, right? Electrical problems occur throughout the plants all the time, because of all the movement and all the vibration and industrial activities going on in that space. And so for both of those, we’re taking advantage of the platform that Boston Dynamics brings to the table to be able to get the sensors at the right place. The sensors are integrated into that platform using that as a feed, coming into the analytics that looks at the visual input, either in the human spectrum or in the infrared spectrum, and then maps that against what are the tolerances that you need. And then we’re out of tolerance, we kick back a request to Maximo.
Patrick Moorhead: Right.
Rob High: So it starts with the platform, right?
Mike Pollitt: So, to build on what Rob was saying, we use the mobile platform, no one can afford to fix sensors all over the plant, put a mobile bank of sensors on Spot integrating in with the IBM edge technology and into Maximo, another IBM product. So it’s looking for anomalies in the plant. So, imagine when you crank your car, you immediately know if there’s an abnormal sound. That happens in the plant today. A lot of the people that are maintaining these plants all over the world have been there for 30 years. They can walk by a motor or a pump and say, there’s a high-pitched squeal, something’s wrong. When those people leave, called the aging workforce, when they retire, all that knowledge is walking out the door. Working with IBM, we want to capture what normal looks like, what good looks like, so we can more quickly and effectively identify those anomalies.
Rob High: And so we capture that in AIs and we run them on an edge computer right there on the device. And you need that because number one, those images may have people in it.
Patrick Moorhead: Right.
Rob High: And now you’ve got a privacy issue, right? So we capture the image right there on the computer, on the Spot. We analyze it. If we detect an anomaly, then we’re going to issue a work order request. If not, we throw the image away. Right. And that way we are able to protect the privacy of the workers on the floor.
Patrick Moorhead: Yeah. The opportunities for safety are just incredible and the examples of 5G and automation inside of warehouses, inside of factories and different places, just a ton of opportunity. And I’m fascinated, I want to tell you Mike, watching YouTube videos of all the cool stuff that you have going, it really stretches your imagination on what can be done. And then when you align that with big data, training, machine learning inference, you really have something that can just be safer, almost like an autopilot of some sort.
Mike Pollitt: Right.
Rob High: The right way to think about this is that it’s really augmenting the people that do this work themselves, right? So yes, people today go out and they look at fire extinguishers and they look for thermal problems. But, a), it’s tedious.
Patrick Moorhead: Right.
Rob High: It’s probably not the most productive use of their time. Sometimes it’s dangerous, so from a safety standpoint. Or it’s just something they don’t have time to get done, right? And therefore the inspections aren’t getting done and therefore the safety issues that come from that are out there. So, this is something that really is augmenting the humans in the tasks they have to perform, taking care of some of the stuff that they just simply don’t want to do or shouldn’t be doing.
Daniel Newman: I love that you said that. In my most recent book, Human Machine, we actually focused on that. There’s a part of the world that thinks automation’s the displacement and really what it is, is it’s up-leveling. That’s such a good example though. Humans have so much potential, our empathic skills are going to be incredibly difficult to ever replicate, but some of the physical automation really can be, and we can keep pushing the world forward with technology. So, Rob, Mike, thank you guys so much for joining us here for this Six Five in the booth. It was a lot of fun.
Rob High: Absolutely.
Patrick Moorhead: Thanks guys. Appreciate it.
Daniel Newman is the Principal Analyst of Futurum Research and the CEO of Broadsuite Media Group. Living his life at the intersection of people and technology, Daniel works with the world’s largest technology brands exploring Digital Transformation and how it is influencing the enterprise. Read Full Bio