A lot of talk in this thread seems to talk about computers as if they're magic - they can do everything at once instantaneously while a human is still distracted with changing the radio station.
Thing is, I think about day to day experience of working with computers. Sure - they can do amazing things compared to us humans. I can feed in a dataset and get a load of statistics back that would be totally impractical to ever calculate by hand. But it's not instant. If the dataset's big enough or the cross-referencing complicated enough I have to sit there for a few minutes while my screen goes grey, the little blue circle wiggles around and everything becomes unresponsive. Sometimes this lasts a looooong time.
I'd hope the computer driving me around town is more powerful than my work laptop of course, but what sort of processing power and software is necessary to do all this magical tracking of everything that's happening around us while simultaneously downloading GPS satellite data and communicating with other smart cars; then using all this data to calculate optimum routes and speeds and initiate urgent evasive manouvres when necessary? Do we have consumer computers that can fit in cars and do that reliably? Not a rhetorical question - I'm curious if anyone knows.
Surprisingly little. The bulk of your computer's processing is running stuff it doesn't really need to run... just stuff you want it to be running so that it's ready for your 'day-to-day' stuffs at any time. Strip all that away, design and program it specifically for the task at hand and nothing more, and things get much faster. A lot faster.
The typical 40 robot, 300 motion side-rail example I mentioned above would run off a program taking up less than 1 MB of file size. The maximum storage of the entire industrial computer would even be in the 2-to-4 MB range. It's not a very "powerful" computer, it's simply a specifically, efficiently designed one used for the tasks it's programmed for and nothing else.
Thanks for the feedback.
Been thinking about this a bit -two thoughts come to mind.
First is that any consumer smart car would be full of bloatware - since we would also expect it to surf the internet, play music, etc. etc. But this could be avoided by having two separate systems - one for the user interface and one to actually drive the car.
However, my second question is whether industrial computers are every required to do tasks of this complexity. You talked about your experience with factory robots; but these are operating in very controlled conditions - they have to react to things moving quickly within a fairly narrowly defined set of parameters (the production line); plus presumably some mechanism to spot when something is going beyond these parameters (such as things falling off the conveyor belt).
It strikes me that navigating a city while reacting to the natural flow of the world around you is a computational task several orders of magnitude more intensive. Or am I overestimating this or underestimating what industrial robots do?