The robots are coming
Covid-19 has really shaken our worlds up but there have been some silver linings. For me, I was part of the upping sticks trend, making the move from London to Edinburgh while still working remotely.
As a Londoner at heart, I was pleased to spot signs of life outside the big smoke. Weekend food markets, distilleries showcasing the true Scottish spirit and now, the UK’s first National Robotarium.
As the largest and most advanced facility for robotics and AI research in the UK, it will be at the “forefront of a technological revolution that is changing the way we work.”
That’s pretty exciting. And with Pixar’s WALL-E (aka animated dystopian adventure movie where ‘Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-class’ robots are sent to sort the earth out after we make it literally unliveable) being one of my fave films, I’m intrigued to see how robots could apply to our growing workloads to make our jobs more manageable, and dare I say it, fun as they take on the tasks we’re not so keen on. Cough, timesheets, cough.
Automation efforts typically ramp up during an economic downturn, spurred on by the need to get back on top of bottom lines. In the wake of Covid-19, we can see that today in the significant growth of the global robotics market. It’s predicted to increase by 20.4% from 2021-2026. That’s a huge leap from $23.67 billion in 2020, to an expected value of $74 billion by 2026.
But it’s not all digitalised sunshine and rainbows. A reluctance to adopt technological developments is expected to slow down market growth. Covid-19’s disruption, causing mass layoffs, has more people, very understandably, worried for their jobs.
As an echo of the original workers opposing the increasing mechanisation of jobs during the first industrial revolution, fears of tech-driven job losses have re-emerged, driven by advances in ‘smart automation’. The combination of AI, robotics and other digital technologies, have already produced smart innovations such as virtual assistants (think Siri and Alexa), Japanese healthcare robots and driverless cars that have many people concerned about the relevance of their roles.
In particular, 17% of workers who work in manual labour express concerns of automation posing a threat to their future employment. With 65% of Americans across sectors expecting robots and computers to “definitely” or “probably” perform jobs that are currently done by humans.
Interestingly, in fact, the rise in robotics and AI is not sector-specific. Higher adoption rates can already be seen in almost all end-user verticals. A recent study also showed that by 2035, up to 75% of retail jobs could be automated, as well as 86% of restaurant jobs.
But to play devil’s advocate here, not all robots are the job-wrecker type.
Automation software applied to sectors such as HR can save staff thousands of hours of tedious and repetitive tasks, such as underwriting, for example. According to Holly Uhl, a technology manager at State Auto Insurance Companies, in her experience people can be “truly thrilled” to get that time back.
Despite an uptick in robotics resistance, the pandemic has also been a great use case for the benefit of robotics and their support of human work. During Covid-19, the impetus to automate has also been driven by businesses’ needs to future-proof in case of further disruption and keeping their people and customers safe.
We’ve all seen news headlines of robots saving medics, nurses and volunteers from testing thousands of saliva covered swabs and public spaces using UV disinfection robot technology to ensure new standards of squeaky clean. It’s pretty handy bots can’t catch Covid.
And how did Amazon keep its tight delivery commitments when everyone was ordering their lockdown banana bread tins? In large part, it’s thanks to the integration of 200,000 robots in its warehouses, alongside hundreds of thousands of human workers.
In fact, Covid-19 has brought a step-change in consumer preferences for service. As more people have been found to be more open to not having a human element in their interactions, further opportunities for automation are opening up.
So, what can robotics providers do to reinforce this changing mindset from potentially stealing jobs to opening up new ways of working and providing services? As people become more accepting, how can robotics be best applied?
Let’s see what we can learn from three industry examples of brilliant bots that bring the benefits of robotics and automation right down to earth.
Universal Robots has a neat website that caters for this, allowing a business to search for convincing case studies by region, application, industry and company size.
Tailor the story for your audience with relevant use cases. Focus on real-world applications that they can achieve today. In particular, technological innovations focused on interaction and manipulation make robotics more appealing to more businesses.
Cobotics World offers a comparison tool where you can compare over 180 robotic arms by various metrics including reach, repeatability and degrees of freedom, making it easier for a prospect to work out/test out what they really need.
Providing models that allow proof of concept to show the value robotics bring to specific aspects of their business will help confront common barriers such as cost, workload, and pervasive stigmas/ethics.
Take a cue from Whiz, Softbank Robotics’ autonomous vacuum sweeper, with its own ROI calculator that shows the cleaning industry how this bot can save them time and money.
Historically robotics has come at high prices, with ROIs expected to be achieved after a decade. Now, thanks to smaller collaborative robots, declining sensor prices and increasing adoption, ROI can be achievable in months rather than years. Offering ROI calculator tools and other clear and honest marketing materials can help sell in and overcome internal objections by providing evidence of commercial and organisational value.
Rather than seeing robots as a potential threat, we have control over how they are applied, so let’s put them to work and see the positive results for ourselves.
Anyway, must dash, off to reserve my tickets for the Robotarium opening in Spring 2022.
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(Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash)