The Critical Role of Robotics and Data in a Secure Future

The World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting gathers government, business, and civil society leaders in Davos, Switzerland, to discuss global issues and make positive, impactful changes happen. 

Gecko Robotics CEO Jake Loosararian was invited to speak at the forum on a panel titled, “In the Name of National Security.” In this session, he joined the Global Editorial Director of Wired Magazine Gideon Lichfield, FBI Director Christopher Wray, First Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine Yuliia Svyrydenko, and Cloudflare, Inc. CEO Matthew Prince to discuss dual-use technologies and why robotics, AI systems, and data software solutions are critical in driving energy security and national defense. This blog highlights and expands on Jake’s discussions from the panel. 

Unlock Data Insights to Protect Critical Infrastructure

Most people don’t think about the structural health of the built world until something goes wrong: a bridge collapsing, widespread power outages, or dangerous facility explosions. Whether we realize it or not, we all depend on the reliable and efficient operation of critical infrastructure every day. 

Within the energy sector, much of the infrastructure that makes our daily activities possible was built more than seventy years ago during the Cold War. These structures are not only operating well beyond their expected useful life, but they are also supporting record-high demand levels. 

Around the world, there is evidence of power plant infrastructure failing. For example, regions in the U.S. experienced rolling blackouts when plants couldn’t meet demand amid below-freezing temperatures, countries spanning Europe continue to scramble for energy security, and Ukraine’s power grid was dismantled due to Russian war crimes. 

To ensure reliable energy security, we first must understand our infrastructure's health. When robotics, fixed sensors, artificial intelligence (AI), and software are used to analyze core assets, we unlock accurate data that can help predict when infrastructure will fail to identify and fix any issues before problems occur.

This critical data drives AI models to provide better decisions on national security and the energy front. However, AI models are only as good as the data inputs going in. Historically, the built world has needed better access to data. Traditional data-collection methods are often dangerous, limited, and extremely time consuming. Robotics serve as an amazing medium to safely, quickly, and accurately capture data to inform how we effectively extend the useful life of infrastructure.

Robotic inspections provide the efficiency and data density necessary to prevent unplanned outages, improve safety, and reduce downtime. We must ensure our energy infrastructure can last and remain operational today and in the future, especially in times of crisis like what Ukraine is experiencing. Robotics are critical in decoding the physical world and providing the data that can help us improve essential infrastructure, extend asset life cycles, and empower better decision making.

Collaboration is Key for Keeping Dual-Use Technologies Secure

When in the right hands, technology and useful data can fuel informed decision making to drive progress, reliability, and innovation. However, if this data isn’t adequately protected, it can pose potential vulnerabilities and cyber threats. 

Many technologies today are considered dual-use, meaning the technology can be used for both commercial and defense applications. As new dual-use technologies increasingly emerge, we must strike a balance between safeguarding useful data without stifling innovation. The sophistication of the private sector is significantly improving, largely due to the level of collaboration between the private sector and governments. 

Useful robotics, sensors, and AI in the energy and defense sectors are impacting reliability, availability, and sustainability. Data is helping us build a safer and stronger tomorrow. Simultaneously, we need to ensure there is an increased investment in cyber security by working collaboratively with governments to protect innovation while securing data. Forming a bridge between the public and private sectors helps bolster digital self-defense to win the war on cyber security.

Accelerating Technology to Solve Urgent Challenges

It has been said that the battlefield is a great place for innovation. Historically, this theory has often held true. The pressures and tensions of war can serve as an accelerant for new technologies emerging. For example, the mass production of penicillin occurred during World War II to help treat wounded soldiers. With the high stakes of people’s lives and national security on the line amid times of conflict, effective problem solving becomes crucial, which drives momentum for faster solutions and productization. 

At Gecko Robotics, we see two battlefields: the soldiers fighting on the front lines and energy infrastructure security. Over the Christmas holiday, repeated Russian attacks left more than nine million people in Ukraine stranded without access to power. Bombing Ukraine’s energy infrastructure left civilians without heat, electricity, and water amid below-freezing temperatures. 

Infrastructure data plays an essential role in maintaining reliability for today’s built world, but it also can be used to create a stronger and more secure future. Once this war ends, Ukraine will need to strategize how to rebuild. By relying on accurate structural data, they can understand the extent and severity of damages and target where repairs can be made to become operational as quickly as possible. Then, they can take it a step further to inform future strategies with AI models and lessons learned from data patterns for a smarter infrastructure system.

Instead of simply rebuilding the previous plan, Ukraine can build an improved, more reliable energy network, prioritizing and spreading capital as efficiently as possible for the best result. Reconstruction plans built on data can help with decision making, prioritization, and controlling costs. Actionable data analytics can bridge where we are today to a vision for the future. Robotics, AI, sensors, and next-gen technologies need to be at the forefront of gathering this information. 

The Tools to Building a Stronger Future

Our critical infrastructure has never been more important, yet it only gets attention when something catastrophic occurs. Much of our infrastructure is constructed from steel or concrete – materials that corrode and weaken over time. If we ignore our current infrastructure, the built world around us will crumble.

Countries worldwide are already experiencing failing energy infrastructure, leaving people without power and access to basic necessities. Additional hurdles continue making it much harder to maintain production, including heightened energy demand and global conflicts. 

Sophisticated robotics, AI systems, and data analytics are critical in unlocking new possibilities for energy security and national defense. There needs to be a push to invest in understanding our built world, protecting the mechanical integrity of assets, and fostering collaboration between the private and government sectors for a more secure future – both structurally and on the cyber front. 

Watch the full “In the Name of National Security” panel discussion from the World Economic Forum.

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