Two start-ups aim to build a US-wide open robotics platform

Two ambitious start-ups aim to provide an open, nationwide platform across the US to support communications for robots, drones and driverless vehicles, and to process the data they produce. Hangar, which has developed a Robotics-as-a-System (RaaS) offering, initially targeting the construction sector, is working with Vapor IO, an edge compute specialist which has been working closely with the mobile industry.

The RaaS will be powered by Vapor IO’s Kinetic Edge infrastructure and will support drone deployments on an as-a-service basis for industrial applications like construction site monitoring and environmental data collection after a disaster. That will be just the first step to an open platform accessible to many sectors, the partners say.

The importance of the edge infrastructure is to support the low latency communications that drones require, and to filter and process data which does not need to be sent to the central cloud. However, despite the appearance of commodity edge node hardware, there are still concerns about how far a highly distributed cloud architecture can scale up, without breaking capex barriers, so an open shared platform is seen as a serious option.

Of course, that has been discussed for dense mobile networks too, though progress has been limited, but there is more precedent for shared, wholesale cloud infrastructure. This could be built out by webscale giants to extend their data centers to the edge, or by network operators adopting a converged communications/compute approach. It is in the latter scenario that Vapor IO comes into its own, since it has targeted Kinetic Edge at mobile networks, offering fully managed micro data centers that sit at the base of cell towers or other mobile sites. Its Vapor Chamber is an enclosure measuring 9×9 feet, which supports up to 150 kilowatts of server equipment and uses the site’s fiber.

Unsurprisingly, US towerco Crown Castle has taken a stake in Vapor IO, signalling a potential move to expand its neutral host tower business into data center and edge cloud services for telcos and others. Crown Castle could support operators or cloud providers which want to deliver edge-based services such as video content delivery, or those with low latency requirements, such as connected car applications.

A project like the one with Hangar would have all kinds of potential for a towerco to diversify its business into bundled full-site services and even data processing and analytics.

So far, Vapor IO has deployed Kinetic Edge only in Chicago, where it has covered the greater metro area with micro data centers spaced 15-20 kilometers apart and connected via a fiber ring. Vapor IO also provides the software to ingest data from nearby surroundings, while Crown Castle supplies the fiber and the physical locations. Vapor IO plans to deploy in 27 cities by the end of this year and over 100 in 2019.

Commercial deployment of Hangar’s RaaS platform is just starting, and will be extended to all Vapor IO’s Kinetic Edge cities as they are switched on in the bid to create a national platform for autonomous robotics.