Driven by advances in technologies such as artificial intelligence and deep learning, the mobile robots market is projected to grow to $54.1 billion by 2023 from $18.7 billion last year, according to Markets and Markets. But for robotics to progress, security for the internet of things (IoT) needs to be addressed fast, before the reputation of the entire industry suffers a permanent setback.
Every industry segment has a journey to maturity that involves ramping up how seriously it takes security. For robotics, that time has come. Failing to start robotics projects on the right software foundations will see confidence continue to drop, impeding the rate at which new solutions are created.
The future of robotics rests firmly on the shoulders of the IoT. Robots act as one part of intelligent ecosystems—they depend on IoT to link various sensors and smart meters, and pass data to and from third parties.
The self-driving car, for example, is a robot orchestrated by various smaller devices and smart sensors. In fact, robots are being created to tackle every conceivable problem. Take the Google-funded RangerBot, an underwater machine designed to track down a species of starfish responsible for coral reef destruction, or Small Robot Company, a startup tackling farming deficiencies with bots that autonomously feed, seed and weed arable crops.
However, while IoT is an established concept and connected devices are now mainstream, its full potential has not been realized in part because of security concerns. Ninety percent of consumers lack confidence in connected devices, according to a recent survey. These concerns are more than valid, as nearly half of companies are unable to detect when a breach occurs, and only 15% of budgets are earmarked for IoT security.
With IoT security a lingering weak spot, one major attack within robotics, could have a domino effect on the entire industry. Add to this the verticals that robots are beginning to infiltrate—health care and agriculture, for example—and the threat becomes immediate and very real.
Rising levels of sophistication within robotics go hand in hand with more targeted and damaging attacks. For example, telesurgery uses robotics to help surgeons perform procedures remotely. A malware bug in this scenario could mean the downing of tools, threatening the patient’s life.
Researchers at Brown University proved how easy it is to hack robots. The industry simply will not be sustainable without the backing of a secure, connected IoT network.
Robot manufacturers, therefore, must build with a security-by-design mindset. This begins by selecting a robust operating system from the outset—secure now, but also ready for future market demands.
Hackers are constantly evolving their activities and businesses must be flexible in their approach to security, shedding the old hardware-centric view of IoT security.
Software no longer can end when a device is shipped. It must align to the lifespan of a robot and be able to update whenever there is a potential flaw. The world of mobile took many years to get to grips with this. Robotics and IoT developers should learn from their mistakes.
One way developers can safely build and secure software is through snaps, containerized software packages on an open platform for building and publishing applications to an audience of millions.
If a security vulnerability is discovered in the libraries used by an application, the app publisher is notified so the app can be rebuilt quickly with the supplied fix and pushed out. This allowsr developers to stay focused on innovation while ensuring the longevity of the robotics hardware.
It remains unclear where the onus lies for IoT security, with nobody holding anyone else to account. Market constraints often prevent device makers from putting more budget than what is necessary into design security, when there is so much pressure to innovate ahead of competitors.
These issues need to be solved. Robotics has too much potential to let security concerns stunt their growth.