The highly automated nature of the Internet of Things and environments where businesses are aligning their IT and operational technologies is perfect ground for chatbots to assist in bringing alerts and decision making to executives and managers in a hurry.
Around the world factories are fast deploying a new generation of production technologies based around the Internet of Things, 5G and autonomous manufacturing tools. These machines are highly reliant on data and networks to supply information and provide up-to-the-minute analytics to the business.
Generally known as Industry 4.0, Industrie 4.0 or Manufacturing 4.0, they are all increasingly common business phrases that refer to the fourth generation of industrial production. One where smart technology and robotics improve production and are allied to the whole business ecosystem through supply chain, product management and delivery.
Bots in the age of smart manufacture
Industrial robotics creates a whole range of smart scenarios. From a robotic paint-sprayer wanting to know when the next car door is coming along, to the industrial press that knows it can produce more of “item c” while waiting for more stock of “item b”, smart factories are taking over the world.
Take a look at Daimler/Mercedes latest smart factory, focused on delivery customised cars with greater flexibility, efficiency and speed using smart logistics while creating an attractive working environment. Or, see how Lamborghini uses Industry 4.0 technologies to build better cars:
But it’s not all big names and glossy products, in South Korea, a large-scale mushroom farm saw the need to dramatically transform its sprawling organization amid rising labor costs and fierce competition in the global market. Working with KPMG, “real-time production data was collected and analyzed using IoT technology, digital sensors and a state-of-the-art data analytics platform. Manual tasks across the farming, sorting and packing ecosystem were largely mechanized using modern automation equipment and robots.”
Chatbots provide the human interface among a factory of robots and data
Among all the robots and AI analytics comes the need for rapid interactions with executives, decisions makers and other management layers, a role the chatbot is perfect for. Applying chatbots to the Internet of Things is not a new idea, but one whose time has very much come.
Chatbots can talk via smart devices, smart home devices in the office, just as well as they can through traditional PCs, using dashboards or apps as ways to impart key information and ask for a decision to be made on essential services or choices.
In the background, the business needs to handle data management, device and application management, putting chatbots are built on messaging or device platforms and ensuring access through search and discoverability at the right times.
As far as the executive is concerned, all they see is their chatbot asking if it is “okay to order more red paint (or component x or resource y)” as use is accelerating due to a seasonal or customer trend” and knowing that the bot will do the rest of the work including ordering, based on best cost or delivery time that fits the factory schedule.
Similarly, in an IT/OT environment, chatbots can alert the IT team to issues with the network or data flows from the operational technology side. NBots can help orchestrate IT and OT network security incident response using automated managed playbooks, or run thousands of commands interactively via a “chatops” interface while collaborating with other analysts to resolve issues.
A world of bots talking to each other
Bots won’t be talking to humans for much longer either. There are already plenty of machine-to-machine (M2M) bot discussions taking place, but as huge numbers of robots and automated services take off they will communicate by themselves, yet with humans still taking responsibility – we will need to see their messages in a common form.
And these bots and machines aren’t limited to high-tech factories, they can appear in all forms of service industry and retailers, among other use cases.
So, if it’s the vending machine on corridor C requesting a restock by the drinks supply robot, or a robo-taxi requesting a parking space in front of the Sheraton hotel to drop off a VIP, the bots will exchange messages in English for the dashboard operator to see what’s going on with the underlying stock or transport data (and essential details like costs or battery life available as meta-data under the chat).
And, in other use cases, bots will talk to both people and other machines. For example a fast-food bot could take a pizza order for delivery, instruct the robot oven what to cook, arrange for the delivery drone (wheeled or flying) to pick it up, with a member of staff checking the right drink and side-orders go in the carton at the right time.
The bot can provide the drone with the coordinates of the confirmed address, and provide the customer with a live map until it is delivered, all of this coordinating multiple machines and digital services through a simple friendly voice or chat interface.
In stores, we could see customers sat down for a coffee with a friend, using the bot to order items of interest for them to inspect. Shopfloor drones deliver them too and from the shelves or stock room. Customers can see a variety of sneakers or dresses before taking the likely ones to a fitting room while the bots return the unwanted items. Finding the right size or style, bots can take selected items to a smart checkout, or delivering them to the buyer’s car or home, with the customer free to carry on eating or shopping elsewhere.
Bots can play a key role in changing how our leisure or shopping time changes, as well as in more utilitarian roles, with a chatbot appearing when it is time for the car to go for a service, or to engage in diagnostic chat with the garage should a warning light appear.
They could pop up on your smartphone in the app from various service providers, say when your phone contract is up for renewal, or a better electricity or gas deal is available. The bot can offer the best deal, or link to an agent if you want to upgrade that old phone or do something more complicated.
As our lives get smarter, and the technology gets more complicated, a simple and easy-to-use chatbot can provide a more aspect to the many services behind the gadgets. Chatbots themselves are getting smarter, able to deal with more complex situations, and wider sources of data, which will help them become a more fundamental part of daily life, both at home and in the office.
Whatever the scenario, bots are here to stay and every business will be using them to communicate with clients, customers or other businesses, and the growing number of automated systems and services we all use, while negotiating with other bots for better deals, faster delivery and so on. If your company isn’t starting down the bot revolution now, it could easily be left behind as technology continues to pick up pace and become a key part of more systems.
Chris Knight writes about where technology will take us next, from the power of neural networks, artificial intelligence and chatbots, to the endless worlds promised by augmented and virtual reality. From the latest in gadgets and hardware to how digital businesses can use technology to grow, Chris makes the future clear and understandable to all.