The Robotic Evolution
By Nicole M., 5/25/16
Ever since science fiction has entered popular culture, people have been enthralled with the concept of evolving society into a place where robots are like people and automated machines are everywhere to help out with everyday chores. This is why characters like Star War’s C-3PO and R2-D2 are such likeable stars; why people still talk about the 1980’s cartoon The Jetsons; and why Roomba has sold over 10 million units worldwide since launching their robotic autonomous vacuum cleaner in September 2002. But realistically, how close are we really to having such advanced robotics?
According to an article written by Jim Pinto on Automation.com, the number of robots in the world today is approaching 1,000,000. Japan accounts for close to half, and the United States accounts for 15%. Previously, car manufacturing was the main industry where robotic automation was used, but today automobile assembly lines only account for 50%. Other industries such as hospitals, warehouses, factories, laboratories and energy plants have figured out how to utilize robotics to streamline production and/or efficiency.
Other, less obvious, robotics can be found around town too. For example, every day people take advantage of ATM machines, automated gas pumps, and self check-out registers at retail stores, just to name a few. So what’s next in terms of the robotics evolution? There are a few trends to watch for in the upcoming year.
China’s Robot Revolution
Driven by increasing wages and political incentives, China is quickly becoming the largest buyer of industrial robots in an effort to make manufacturing more efficient and cost-effective. Reports are saying that China is building their very own in-country robotics industry and that by 2017 will have more robots operating in its production plants than any other country. In fact, the province of Guangdong, which is the epicenter for China’s manufacturing, has already promised to invest $154 billion in installing robots, according to a January 2016 article by Will Knight on TechnologyReview.com. China’s core industries using robotics are automobiles and electronic factories.
Advanced Intelligence: Visual Perception, Smarter learning, Personal Touches
Historically, robots have been revered for doing very precise, repetitive work but actual intelligence has never been a strength. When it comes to adapting to a new task or coping with an unfamiliar situation, robots fall very flat. Thanks to new techniques and improvements in algorithms, though, this might change as human-simulation advances. Robot experts are working hard to create advanced intelligence for robots that will give them visual perception, reasoning skills, grasping capabilities, and knowledge sharing. Once these new technologies are put into production, delivery systems and production speeds and efficiencies will dramatically improve.
One of the hottest topics in manufacturing continues to be collaborative robotics, an advanced technology that allows robots to work side-by-side with humans on plant floors. Rather than replacing human workers, these smart robotics work safely beside them and can even roam free on factory floors. With safety sensors that prevent them from running into humans, they no longer need to be caged or bolted to the floor. But more importantly, they are able to perform a variety of tasks and can adapt to real-world variability. They are agile enough to change applications quickly, and can perform tasks like people do.
Drones have quickly risen up (no pun intended) to be one of the most useful and productive robotics in use today and have revolutionized the way we capture, monitor and assist our world. Industries from farming to the military to giant retailers and more are using drones for collecting data, surveillance and deliveries. Even every day citizens are buying drones and flying them around their neighborhoods. In fact, there was so much drone activity last year, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration released regulations for registering drones. Knight writes, “While you might not see the skies filled with drones immediately, expect increasingly smart and autonomous drones to be tested in many industries, especially ones where automated surveillance and inspection use… And if companies like Amazon, Google and others have their way, then perhaps some of next year’s holiday gifts might even be delivered through the air.”
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