Are you ready for a head start?
Every now and then, I’m surprised by the large gap between industrial electronics and hobby electronics. Industrial grade hardware is often expensive, outdated and bulky. Hobby electronics are tiny, powerful and cheap.
It’s a strange contrast. Both are happening in the same present time: my neighbor, monitoring and irrigating his vegetable plants while staying at his holiday house in Spain, but the next-door factory using electronic control modules from the 90’s and having difficulties to buy a spare connector because they are no longer in production. So why is that?
The most obvious reason is robustness. Modern control electronics haven’t been around for that long, so they have less proven reliability. In addition, modern modules are more complex, thus increasing the risk that at some point an internal process goes wrong. Imagine you’re the owner of a chemicals processing plant. You don’t want to take the risk that your processes go out-of-control. You choose robustness above all.
So is there no reason to choose for modern control technology? Well, there is, and the reason is brain power. The brain power of modern control hardware is orders of magnitude larger than similar devices from the 90’s. Today’s single-board computers, sometimes adding a powerful GPU next to a CPU, can easily out-smart a Russian chess genius. And more brain power can be used to leverage superior performance.
A nice example is the story of Kongsberg Maritime, a Norwegian technology company that has been around for 200 years. In the 1960s and 1970s, when offshore oil exploration started in the North Sea, the need arose to keep ships on position without anchors. Several companies started developing and selling ‘dynamic positioning’ systems, which control the ship’s propellers such that the ship stays on position. All companies claimed to have the best performance, but their underlying technology was identical. All of them used standard PID control.
In 1975, a Norwegian professor, Jens G. Balchen, started working at Kongsberg Maritime and noticed that they could improve the performance by using a new control technique, the Kalman filter. The technique had the potential to make dynamic positioning 10 times more accurate, but there was only one problem: they needed more computer power than available in industry-approved hardware. Nevertheless, the guys from Kongsberg went for it and integrated state of the art hardware in their dynamic positioning systems, with spectacular performance as a result.
Today, 40 years later, Kongsberg is still in pole position. They have used their head start in 1975 to win big contracts, and they have used the profits to do smart acquisitions and maintain their leadership. I believe that there are many similar stories to this one, but also many cases where people have chosen for technology-as-usual and missed the opportunity for a head start. Perhaps they didn’t recognize the opportunities. Or perhaps they were not aware of the latest technology.
That is what Dot Robot stands for: making modern control technology widely available. Our goal is to give you a head start. Our expertise is in state-of-the-art electronic control modules and electrical sub-assemblies. Our product is a tailored brain for your machine, including wiring to all sensors and actuators. And regarding robustness: our solution is simple. Testing, testing and testing, until it achieves the same robustness as the old-school technology.