Guiding Robot Vessels Through the Internet of Things

Jim Poole
Guiding Robot Vessels Through the Internet of Things


The news this month about the U.S. military’s ongoing tests of “Sea Hunter,” the world’s largest unmanned ship, drew lots of attention, and for good reason.

There’s nothing that’s not cool about a sleek, 132-foot robot vessel with a range of more than 11,000 miles, hunting the seas for foreign submarines and underwater mines. And during a time when talk about self-driving cars, pilotless airplanes and autonomous vehicles in general is everywhere, an unmanned ship is going to get people excited.

But my interest in Sea Hunter extends past its news appeal. Here’s a line in an Associated Press report that caught my eye:

“Officials say the ship has the potential to revolutionize not only the military’s maritime service but commercial shipping by marking the first step toward sending unmanned cargo vessels between countries.”

Sea Hunter is a military vessel that operates on a closed system and doesn’t touch civilian networking infrastructure, so it won’t touch Equinix. But unmanned commercial vessels would be tied to us, since the data they depend on to function globally would move through Equinix data centers.

It sounds bold, but the truth is that the makers of autonomous vehicles – ships, cars, planes, whatever – couldn’t think about doing what they’re doing without the interconnection we deliver at Equinix.

In the Thick of the IoT

Every autonomous vehicle is also an Internet of Things (IoT) use case, and that means they all depend heavily on the interconnection we enable.

It’s true that any autonomous vehicle will have its own onboard sensors and a limited processing capacity so it can understand and react in real time to changing conditions. But the vehicles are also going to be in constant contact through a network to a “back end” system, exchanging the information behind decisions that don’t have to be made in a split second (e.g., changing course due to coming weather or traffic). The vehicle must, in fact, offload as much decision-making as possible to the back end, because it doesn’t have the on-board computing capacity to successfully do it all on its own.

This back end processing involves a mashup of data between various sources, applications and things in the IoT, and it needs to be quickly analyzed and sent to the vehicle, so it can decide what to do next. As the information streams back and forth, it’s going through Equinix data centers anywhere that Equinix is the dominant interconnection provider – and that’s all over the globe. Equinix is essential to autonomous vehicles because we’re in the thick of the IoT.

Three Keys

To expand on how Equinix is critical to the development of autonomous vehicles, consider that you need three things for the Internet of Things to even exist: 1) secure and reliable networks, because the data is coming in from all over; 2) the compute power and storage capacity to do the analytics work needed to make sense of the data; 3) low latency and close proximity between data sources and end users.

Equinix is the only place that delivers all three:

  • We host 1,150+ networks globally.
  • The needed compute power is only found in the cloud, and we’re home to 500+ cloud service providers, including Amazon, Microsoft, Google, IBM, Oracle and Cisco.
  • We have 145+ data centers in 40 markets on five continents, so businesses can get close to their end users/customers globally, and reach most of the world’s top markets in 10 milliseconds or less.

So when autonomous vehicles hit the seas, skies, or highway, they’re also moving in a very real sense through Equinix and our global Platform Equinix™, which we’ve spent 18 years and $12.5 billion building. It will be an exciting day at Equinix when the commercial generation of Sea Hunter finally launches, because we’ll be there for them.

Learn more Equinix and our IoT vision.