By Jeff Weiland, LG Business Solutions USA
Since the first modern robots were developed in the 1950s, public fascination with autonomous machines has ranged from excitement and hope to hesitation and fear, and everything in between.
Over the next few decades, single-use robots began to appear in factories and mailrooms, and average citizens became more comfortable and familiar with the digital technologies that are a central part of home life.
While today’s dancing, jumping and flying robots were still decades away, the controversy was much the same then: Workers feared the machines would kill their jobs.
As history has shown time and time again, advances in technology can disrupt entire industries and take certain tasks out of the hands of human operators.
However, the systemic effect is that machines are exploited to make individual workers more productive, enable the accomplishment of previously impossible tasks, and free up human resources to handle more complicated or mentally demanding work.
In many cases, these changes are also creating entirely new industries, such as the need for robot maintenance.
The meaning of the term “robot” has also changed over time, with self-driving vacuum cleaners, lawn mowers and self-driving cars all falling under the modern robot category.
Meanwhile, other autonomous machines are being developed to perform surveillance, respond to emergencies in hazardous locations, deliver packages, assist in hospitality and retail establishments, and even perform surgery.
Looking ahead, it is almost certain that robots and intelligent machines will advance exponentially in both their capabilities and their integration into daily human activities.
A robot for everything
Enter a modern car factory and you will see a number of single task robots performing dangerous and essential tasks with greater precision and reliability than a worker could provide.
It’s the same story in food production facilities, where custom-built machines identify, sort, move and package produce alongside human workers.
Meanwhile, farmers are beginning to gain access to tractors with self-driving and navigation, at the same time as these features are being made available in consumer vehicles for use on traditional roads.
If it seems like there’s a robot for everything these days, maybe that’s because there is.
As the components and technologies used to build robots have fallen in price and complexity, everyone from home DIYers to global corporations have invested time and resources in developing new robotic tools to accomplish new tasks for businesses and owners.
As noted, the term “robot” is a big umbrella, and some may even consider a device as simple as a motorized subject tracking surveillance camera to be a robot.
The surveillance camera is a good example of a modern robot offering functionality that was previously impossible or impractical due to the cost and labor involved.
Today, accelerating advances in autonomous technologies go hand in hand with growing use of digital devices and services by average citizens. Countless parts of modern everyday life would be unrecognizable to someone from the 1990s, let alone the 1950s.
The public acceptance and adoption of digital technologies presents unprecedented opportunities for robot manufacturers and businesses to integrate robotics into more places and roles, with some existing workers shifting to job-based tasks. on knowledge and customer service.
The fervor has also started to hit non-traditional sectors of the economy, with fast-food companies testing small, self-driving delivery vehicles on college campuses, manufacturers teaming up with airports and hotels to test delivery robots. customer service, and a recent milestone that was reached when a new robot surpassed human precision in surgeries performed on pigs.
The connected effect
Robots can help us with everything from menial tasks, such as vacuuming the floor, to demanding precision tasks, such as surgery.
Within the next few years, wheeled autonomous robots will likely begin to help workers in restaurants, hotels and retail stores by delivering food and products to customers so humans can focus on conversations, recommendations , sales and ensuring customer satisfaction.
Many of these locations will already use control systems, security systems, distributed audio and video networks, and other digital technologies that can integrate directly with assistant robots.
By making robots compatible and able to communicate with existing systems, a hotel could allow guests to order room service via a touchscreen with voice recognition, then ask a robot to deliver food and notify guests. on the touch screen or through audio such as “your food has arrived”.
In general, the more data an AI device can capture, the better it will perform. This fact may encourage some companies to use specific robots and autonomous machines designed to be compatible with their existing technologies and able to share information in real time.
Indeed, introducing advanced robotics into environments with compatible systems can increase the value of the robot and existing components.
This refers to the idea of single-vendor solutions, where a company can develop its internal systems to all work together and rely on the same interfaces and protocols for interactions and updates.
At the most basic level, every robot designed to date is a tool meant to perform a specific function. With limited functionality or ability to adapt to changes in the environment, most robots for commercial use support personnel rather than replacing the need for manpower, like any tool.
In fact, businesses and their employees can be more productive and have more time to focus on quality and service when robotic assistants help move goods from point A to point B or provide information.
As new types of robots become available to handle more tasks, business owners and staff will no doubt find more valuable needs to focus their efforts on, and will also be required to keep things running smoothly. , load and cleanliness of all robots visible to customers.
For now, robots are mostly relegated to controlled environments where floor plans don’t change and weather isn’t a factor. Nevertheless, more capable units will inevitably be able to deal with more fluid and complex situations and environments.
As such, the need for human oversight and intervention may increase, such as a new delivery manager position who uses an app to observe the progress of delivery robots and help ensure customer satisfaction.
where we go from here
The pace of robotics innovations has accelerated as more companies and individuals use them in daily life. Therefore, everyone from economists to students has their own ideas and expectations of what robots will look like and what functions they will perform in 10 years, 20 years or 50 years from now.
In the near future, we’re likely to see autonomous vehicles enter the ride-sharing market while smaller robotic vehicles perform deliveries and AI-powered drones help first responders locate victims in emergencies.
The growing adoption of “Internet of Things” devices that are always connected and provide constant data is likely to overlap with advances in robotics to deliver benefits that we cannot even articulate yet.
As all of this progresses, manufacturers and companies deploying robotic assistants will need to carefully balance their introductions with the expectations of customers and employees who may need training to understand the added value of the new technology.
No one knows when we’ll see a Rosie-like assistant capable of running an entire home, but as robotics experts exploit existing smart technologies, integrate with IoT devices and develop increasingly sophisticated autonomous capabilities, it could be earlier than expected.
Jeff Weiland is a senior team leader at LG Business Solutions USA, a leading provider of robotic solutions.