Preparing for Disaster; Our Robotic Future

Opinion: Allstate Insurance takes steps with mobile and wireless technology to ensure its customers remain in good hands; the mobile robot market could be on the cusp of something big.

Few corners of the world are immune from natural disasters. Though many of us live in areas like California (earthquakes) or central Kansas (tornadoes), we choose to live with the risk, even if we cannot avoid it. In the Northeast, we thought we were safe—with the exception of blizzards—until relentless rains in May triggered historic floods.

This years hurricane season officially started on June 1, yet thousands of people in New Orleans are still picking up the pieces from last years Hurricane Katrina. If Al Gore is correct, and global warming will spur an increase in weather-related disasters, then I guess the best advice (besides to see Gores movie and stop driving Hummers) is to buy lots of insurance.

Insurers have seen the signs and are taking steps to deal with natural disasters in cutting-edge ways. In our latest eWeek Road Map feature, Executive Editor/News Larry Dignan details steps Allstate Insurance is taking with mobile and wireless technology to ensure its customers remain in good hands.

Allstate is armed with a fleet of RVs and satellite dishes, and Cisco has invented a portable network in a box that looks more suited to a James Bond film than the French Quarter. Bottom line: "What weve done is to give the adjuster[s] a mobile claims office where they can process claims and issue checks faster and cheaper," said Darel Myers, technical equipment manager for Allstates national catastrophe team.

Until now, robots have been the stuff of Isaac Asimov novels, automobile assembly lines and, more recently, products such as iRobots Roomba vacuum cleaner. But the mobile robot market could be on the cusp of something big , thanks to new development tools and emerging software standards. "A lot of people have said this market is a lot like the early PC business was in the 1970s," Tandy Trower, general manager of the robotics project at Microsoft, said to eWeek Senior Writer John G. Spooner at the Robo-Business Conference & Expo held June 20-21 in Pittsburgh. "People were asking, Why would I want a PC?" The PC took off despite the early notions that computers should be in cabinets and run only by white-coated technicians. Robots no doubt will follow the same path—once people discover what to do with them.

Contact Scot Petersen at

Scot Petersen

Scot Petersen

Scot Petersen is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. Prior to joining Ziff Brothers, Scot was the editorial director, Business Applications & Architecture,...