Robots have become so mainstream that they’re poised to become a driving force of future economies. Mordor Intelligence research shows that the global robotics industry will exceed $74 billion by 2026. That’s a CAGR of more than 17% over six years. It’s also an indication that robotic disruption in the workplace is just a matter of time.
Disruption doesn’t have to mean employee or consumer dismay, though. Against all the sci-fi warnings, robots have proven their worth as helpers and assistants. Far from being a menace to society, they’ve brought us plenty of opportunities to do things faster—and safer. For instance, in the tourist town of Pompeii, a four-legged robot roams and protects. In major cities, last-mile delivery robots make getting goods more efficient and cost-effective.
So should we let go of our generations-long fear of robots? Experts like Jeff Wong say yes.
Wong, the global chief innovator of EY, sees the folding of robots into everyday life as a natural, welcome phenomenon.“I’m of the mind that robots will enjoy an increasingly symbiotic relationship with humans worldwide in the years to come,” he explains on LinkedIn. “They’ll work alongside us and will perform jobs independently that are becoming increasingly hard to fill, allowing employees and consumers to be more creative, strategic and productive, and less task-oriented.”
Already, Wong’s predictions are starting to come true. Robots are popping up in a variety of industries, and not always where you’d expect. Below are some of the places where robots are adding value and opening doors to innovation.
1. Robots are prompting the evolution of healthcare.
Robots aren’t exactly fresh faces in medicine—they’ve been around for more than three decades. Now, though, more healthcare systems and providers are exploring ways to leverage robots for surgical procedures. For example, American Hip Institute uses robots in their hip replacement surgeries.
But robots aren’t only getting a seat in the operating theatre. They’re doing other tasks for healthcare workers and patients.
If you visit a larger hospital, you may see a robot delivering medications, equipment, and other items. These types of robots aim to take away busy work responsibilities for nurses and staff. As the maker of Moxi, a medical delivery robot, explains, up to 30% of nurses’ duties are just “hunting and gathering.” Having a robot deliver and fetch supplies allows frontline workers to spend time on more patient-centric concerns.
Another exciting use for robotics in medicine is the exoskeleton. An exoskeleton robot can be wrapped around a person’s limb. The exoskeleton then gives the limb added strength. This offers opportunities for faster limb healing for patients. However, exoskeletons are being looked at as supportive devices for healthcare team members, too. When wearing an exoskeleton device, healthcare workers may reduce their chances of musculoskeletal disorders, according to the CDC. Fewer on-the-job injuries for nurses equate to better care for everyone.
2. Robots are making their mark on agriculture.
Farming and agribusiness are physically demanding sectors. Many producers depend upon high-tech inventions to ensure higher crop yields and reduce pests. Take AI: It’s starting to become a bigger player in farming. AI systems have the capacity to make reliable harvest predictions based on everything from drone images to unstructured data. And AI is only the beginning now that robots are becoming increasingly available.
Consider swarm farm robots. They’re small, autonomous vehicles that can traverse fields rapidly. Though most iterations of swarm farm robots can only do a specific task, the possibilities for future adaptability are endless. And entrepreneurs around the world know it. SwarmFarm, a startup from Australia, nabbed $4.5 million in funding to promote the development of ag-bots.
Farmbots may wind up staving off international food instability by dependably locating weeds or planting seeds. As noted in The New York Times, the world’s population will nearly top 10 billion by 2050. Using robots may be one of the most practical ways to get the most out of the land in any given spot.
3. Robots are making militaries more prepared and well-trained.
Robots may be peaceful in nature, but they’re affecting combat. Military drones, though not exactly robots per se, have been popping up for years. Drones can go places that military personnel can’t—or shouldn’t. They’re perfectly suited for reconnaissance missions and transporting materials. Underwater versions, like the Orca, can serve as unmanned scouts underneath the waves.
In training situations, robots allow military personnel to learn protocols. Combat robots move along the ground and can be programmed to go just about anywhere. After one successful training exercise, Major Cory Wallace noted the vast possibilities for these kinds of advanced robots: “This validated the notion that if we assign the dumb, dirty, dangerous missions to the robots, we can re-assign our Soldiers to the high-priority complex missions and tasks.”.
Of course, military-based robots don’t necessarily have to be on the offense or defense in a battlefield setting. It may be possible for robots to rescue injured soldiers or civilians in a real-world situation. A robot doesn’t have worries when entering an active combat zone to pull someone to safety. The robot merely follows orders and serves, ensuring it’s a reliable companion for its team.
Healthcare, agriculture, and the military are just three of the countless industries where robots could have a positive, lasting effect. We just have to look beyond what we learned about robot intentions from film, TV, and horror books. After all, it’s turned out that robots may be important assets in leading humanity forward.