Imagine a future in which you order an item online, and a drone lowers it from the sky less than an hour later. How would drone delivery be possible? After you click “Buy”, a number of software systems verify the payment, subtract the item from inventory and send the order to fulfillment. Today, many of these systems are already automated, but not all of them. Often, humans have to help with various steps in different software systems.
Orchestrating fleets of autonomous drones will require tightly integrated technologies and systems that allow drones to sense and respond to obstacles and each other in near real-time. It will require networks that can transport massive amounts of data in near real-time. It will require offloading those computing capabilities to the network edge. In short, it will require mobile edge computing (MEC) and 5G.
MEC is a way of building compute and storage resources at the edge of the network itself. It comes in both public and private versions. Why is it important for delivering your parcels? Because MEC can help power both autonomous robots and robotic process automation. While RPA sounds similar, it in fact describes using software-based “robots” to complete tasks that would require valuable time from workers. For example, processing orders, checking inventories, and preparing shipping instructions could all be automated, freeing humans to help more customers or do more creative work.
Many of the actions that occur within a supply chain or order fulfillment process can increasingly be done by RPA. According to Gartner, 80% of organizations in finance have already implemented RPA or are considering doing so. Logistics companies have been slower to adopt RPA, but that is likely to change soon.
While many RPA instances today operate without MEC, to be effective, RPA must have access to significant compute resources. And while RPA operates in the world of software, in the context of fulfillment those software systems will interact with autonomous robots and other fast-moving systems, meaning RPA too will need to react quickly. RPA systems will benefit from having compute at the edge of the network—not at distant cloud data centers.