Look anywhere and you’ll find conversations about autonomous operations. Everyone is weighing in on how to balance the benefits from these new technologies with the perceived impact on society and our collective future, particularly in our Covid reality. What I can tell you – from an industrial IoT perspective – is that we are seeing autonomous operations having a very positive effect.

Across industries, we’re seeing autonomous operations deliver increased business resiliency, better jobs, improved working conditions, increased efficiency, and a higher quality of work/life balance across many industries.

  • Autonomous trains: Since the first driverless trains in the late ‘90s, more and more passenger train lines are being built and converted to automated lines, delivering additional safety for passengers, operational flexibility and reduced operating costs. Driverless trains can increase throughput by increasing the frequency of trains on a metro line and at the same time, they deliver a track record for safety that human drivers are unable to match.
  • Warehouses and distribution centers: Entirely autonomous loading systems are now taking and fulfilling orders from the supply chain. Forklifts and pickers fetch the product, deliver to the pallet, wrap for shipping, and transport to the shipping dock.
  • O&G exploration: Once workers get a drill rig close to the target drill area, the rig can take over by itself – saving workers from a job that not only is dangerous but can take days. The autonomous drill can also quickly make on-the-fly changes, like adjusting the angle of the drill, to increase yield and efficiency.
  • Auto manufacturing: Here manufacturers are weaving autonomous operations into their industrial automation efforts – like using RFID on to keep track of car bodies as they move across the production line and Automated Mobile Robots (AMRs) to safely move material across the factories.
  • Amusement rides: Today the most advanced and desired rides in amusement parks are the so-called “dark rides”, where visitors hop on fully autonomous vehicles speeding up through a completely dark warehouse and where the experience is provided though immersive displays, VR googles, and incredible accelerations. The entire outdoor “amusement network” is connected by wireless access points on the vehicles and the infrastructure, all powered by rugged IoT switches and routers.

Behind each level of automation is a communication and connectivity challenge across industries.  Autonomous operations require vast quantities of real-time video and data that legacy networks simply can’t handle – and often the operations are in harsh, remote, and dangerous locations. Trains are constantly in motion across remote geographies and inside tunnels, presenting unique connectivity challenges. All this automation translates into the need for high bandwidth, high security, and high reliability.

The Foundation for Autonomous Operations – A Secure and Reliable Network

The secret power behind autonomous operations?

It starts with Cisco’s secure and reliable network for IIoT that powers the entire system and connects everything – device to vehicle to data to Cloud – making sure your autonomous operations have the right data to make the right decision at the right time. Autonomous operations rely on that perishable data at the edge that is only valuable at that moment. After an incident, it does little value to know the vehicle should have turned.

Likewise, autonomous operations are only successful if the entire system is secure. If the network were to be hacked, perpetrators could take over the autonomous operations. Imagine the mining truck being rerouted to follow the wrong path causing an accident. You have to trust your network to trust your business to autonomous operations.

The recipe for your success?

We know that automation comes with challenges as we’re right there alongside our customers in their environments. No other company has the breadth of experience inside IT/communications and industrial settings across voice, data, and video to bring IT and operations together.

Every day we work with our customers to accelerate their success by:

  • Bringing their IT/OT ecosystems together – so that IT can leverage all that they already know about Cisco networking and OT can get projects going quickly and securely
  • Building a strong network of industrial partners who know the ins and outs of these industrial operations – and we’re just getting started
  • Delivering more validated designs, like our new Distribution Automation – jointly validated with Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories – that highlights advantages from new innovations to the Cisco Resilient Mesh

Next up – Take a Deep Dive into Autonomous Mining

Over the next few blogs, I’m going to take you deeper into some automation use cases – first with mining and then with ports. While it may not be your exact industry, I’ll encourage you to keep reading as there are a lot of similar challenges across these operational settings.

In the meantime, learn more about how Cisco can connect any asset, anywhere with our suite of industrial IoT products and our new on-the-go solutions, how we are discovering and securing devices with Cyber Vision, and how our intent-based networking is delivering the simplicity and automation needed for IoT at scale.


Vikas Butaney

Senior Vice President and General Manager, Cisco SD-WAN, Multicloud, and Industrial IoT