Automation may be the next catalyst for innovation in the energy sector as Mitsubishi tests an AI engineer for thermal power plants in Taiwan.

We aren’t just talking about the disposal of nuclear waste or prevention of leaks and meltdowns. Industry 4.0 requires an embracing of automation and a new outlook on labor.

The way that current power plant engineers interact with new robots is ever-evolving. Just the thought of handing vital energy functions over to an AI is scary.

Despite this fear, automation continues to show robots and humans working side-by-side in myriad industries. Just look at #8 on our recent robot list: “Flippy” the burger flipping robot.

Automation doesn’t have to mean the end of certain jobs for humans. However, Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems (MHPS) just announced that they are testing an “AI engineer”.

How could a portion of the power plant engineer job be automated? Hopefully, Mitsubishi’s tests will show us just that.

image of Homer Simpson for article Autotech News: Mitsubishi Debuts Power Plant AI Engineer
Despite Homer’s frustration, automation could actually be helpful | The Simspons | 20th Century Fox via theday.co.uk

Automation, Overall, is Good for Workers

As we covered previously, automation in various industries is not a new concept. General Motors started its “automation department” as early as 1947. That trend has continued through today where some hope that automation will bring production jobs back to the U.S.

But it is no secret that automation is a concern for many people across multiple industries.

The introduction of the power plant “AI Engineer” from MHPS is at once cause for concern and excitement. It is the kind of technology that could lead to automated power plants.

image of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries AI engineer for article Autotech News: Mitsubishi Debuts Power Plant AI Engineer
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries via Forbes

Autotech News: Not as Scary as You Think

Automation within industries can be a boon.

The UK National Grid may use Google’s DeepMind AI to augment their electricity system. The Monarch Platform is helping surgeons perform bronchoscopies more easily and effectively. Not to mention some of the other coolest robots to comes out of CES2018.

In that same vein, the MHPS AI engineer will help tune boilers. These boilers are integral in thermal power plants since they heat water, creating steam to drive turbines. Like any machine, these boilers need to be tuned periodically due to use.

The tuning process includes checking fuel efficiency and balancing steam temperatures and gas exhaust. Since the gas exhaust includes Nitrogen and carbon monoxide, you can see the importance of this task.

But MHPS also plans for the autotech to detect mechanical problems early. By monitoring power plant equipment, it can help avoid equipment failure and curtail efficiency issues.

MHPS already has initial test results for the Taiwan Power Company Linkou thermal power plant. Their AI engineer displayed similar results to human engineers in their tests.

image of Mitsubishi ships for article Autotech News: Mitsubishi Debuts Power Plant AI Engineer
Mitsubishi ships | Mitsubishi Heavy Industries via gcaptain.com

What the AI Engineer Means for the Future

This is not the first time Mitsubishi has championed an invention of the automated future.

In 2017, they debuted the e-Evolution car with an AI system that claims to teach humans to drive better. In fact, they have an entire digital solutions platform called MHPS-TOMONI for power plants. The parent company, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, has a history of pushing the needle forward in technology.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries delved into aerospace, industrial tools, and even space equipment. Though it only became independent from Mitsubishi Motors in 1970, the origins stretch back to 1884. It all started with a shipyard and founder Yataro Iwasaki.

image of Mitsubishi founder Yataro Iwasaki for article Autotech News: Mitsubishi Debuts Power Plant AI Engineer
Yataro Iwasaki | Wikipedia

MHPS carries on this tradition of innovation with the autotech and automation movement. But this AI engineer will not replace power plant engineers any time soon.

Instead, it is designed to help leverage data for human engineers. You can track temperature sensors, energy usage, and more with the help of this autotech. Those insights are something that human engineers cannot do. 

What they can do is provide ingenuity and experience that robots just don’t have (yet). As John McKenna said in this Forbes article: “It is not human or AI, it is human and AI.”

How else can automation reduce waste, amplify human abilities, and protect human lives?

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