Intelligent motion goes mainstream

Alix Paultre, Editorial Director, PSD



Tools move into the big leagues when they start moving. Even systems we consider basic, like the wheel and axle, lever, and inclined plane are made up of interacting parts. Every tool we have pretty much beyond the hammer and chisel comes from interacting systems composed of various configurations of the six simple machines (beyond the three already mentioned one could add the pulley and screw).

We define our machines, but our machines also define us. The more sophisticated we make our machines, the more sophisticated we make ourselves in turn. The new explosion of advanced motion-enabled devices we are creating is in return creating a world full of useful products and services. The IoT of motion is fueled by the ready availability of small powerful motors, inexpensive and powerful logic, and the Cloud to support advanced software-based functionalities.

Motion is an especially elusive technology to perfect, as any system with moving parts by definition has some operating tolerances. Through the ages motion in an object was a sign of life, and lifelike devices have titillated people since we were smart enough to create autonomous mechanical devices. History is full of amazing devices like Da Vinci’s Knight, and Japan’s famous "Karakuri" automata. Even devices that were eventually proved fake, like the chess-playing Mechanical Turk, were quite mechanically complex.

In today’s world lifelike repeatable motion means more about getting the spot-weld right on an automobile frame than having synchronized singing birds spring out of a fake pistol. We need our machines to be more than just whimsical playthings, we demand work from them, even the ones (especially the ones) we use for play.

The advent of inexpensive intelligent motion in the mainstream is changing many industries and and application spaces, and will create new ones we haven’t yet foreseen. The root science has been around for a while, but the core tech and its surrounding infrastructures have only recently become prevalent and inexpensive. The commoditization of computing has made the ability to create an intelligent motion system, in applications from industrial robots to MEMS-stabilized motion-compensating Parkinson's patient eating utensils.

The realm of application spaces empowered by better motion control, smaller and more precise motors, and the command and control infrastructure to manage them, is literally limitless. The Internet of Things is more than just a bunch of chained smartphones, it’s an industrial Cloud linked to a Smart Grid in an intelligent municipality, it’s a million tiny sensors feeding information into dynamic systems to enable them to operate better, and its every legacy application you ever knew recharged, revitalized, and rejuvenated.