Whether your idea of robots involves a factory production line or C-3PO from Star Wars, who specializes in “human-cyborg relations,” you’re probably interested in where industrial and commercial robotics are headed.
While robotics have been standard fare in factories for a few decades now, robots aren’t yet integrated into most people’s daily lives … at least not in the way they will someday be. But let’s begin talking about robotics in the industrial space and look at some of the numbers.
According to a study from Tractica, a research and consulting firm, warehousing and logistics robot shipments will reach 620,000 units annually by 2021.
To give some perspective, global warehousing and logistics robot unit shipments were around 40,000 in 2016, so an increase to more than 600,000 units within the next four years is substantial. Sales-wise, it’s a sure bet we will also see some huge growth. Tractica’s research suggests the market value (again for warehousing and logistics robots) will grow from $1.9 billion in 2016 to $22.4 billion by 2021.
What’s driving this growth? There are so many vertical markets that are adopting IoT (Internet of Things) technologies and we can’t ignore an enterprises’ need to stay competitive. Technology innovation is happening at break-neck speed, and the industrial sector is continuously looking for ways to cut costs and improve efficiency, quality, and safety. The IoT can deliver in all of these areas.
Robotics in particular are making a huge mark on sectors like manufacturing because of its ability to make operations more cost effective, while also providing the added benefits of improving quality and making factory floors safer.
While robots in various supply-chain operations have been around for quite some time, there is no question we’re at a unique time in history. Robotics solutions are maturing. There are plenty of success stories for all kinds of industrial use cases, and the innovations we are seeing in AI (artificial intelligence) technology will only make robots more and more useful in more situations.
Tractica also points out in its study that more companies are showing confidence in robotics’ ability to provide a favorable ROI (return on investment) in less time than it took just a few years ago. This too is a sign of market maturation.
Market-growth drivers for industrial robots will include mobile-robot platforms and industrial-robot manipulators, as well as shuttle automated storage and retrieval systems and gantry robots. Gantry robots are the ones that consist of a manipulator mounted on an overhead system so they can move across a horizontal plane. And since we’re in forecast mode, I’d wager that during the next five years, we are going to see a huge boon in robot adoption in warehouse and logistics operations.
This is based on the study that I just referenced and my own personal observations and conversations with people in the industry. This means there will likely be a lot of opportunities for robotics companies, including new startups, to innovate and bring us some really great solutions for some really unique applications.
Now, another market driver for industrial robotics will inevitably be the steadily growing interest in and adoption of robotics in non-industrial sectors, including the consumer realm.
I was just at CES earlier this month and robots played a key part of the event. It’s just a matter of time before markets ranging from retail to healthcare will be knee-deep in robots powered by intuitive AI technology. Let’s look at hospitality as just one example of a market that’s ripe for commercial robots.
When we travel today, we rely on other humans to provide us with certain services—whether it’s answering questions, providing directions, handling ticketing requests at an airport, or bringing us fresh towels at a hotel. In the future, this may not be the case, thanks to advanced AI and deep-learning technologies.
Several companies are going after these types of commercial applications with their robotics solutions. For this column, let’s focus on one that stood out at CES: LG.
Earlier this month, LG announced it’s expanding its robot portfolio in an effort to explore new commercial opportunities like those I just mentioned in hospitality. In fact, LG unveiled three new work robots developed for commercial use at hotels, airports, and supermarkets under its “CLOi” (pronounced “chloe”) robot brand. Let me detail these three new concepts for you; it’s a really good snapshot of where I see the robotics market headed. First, we have the CLOi serving robot, which LG says will deliver food and beverages to hotel guests and people at airports.
Next, we have the CLOi Porter robot, which is also built for airport and hotel environments.
The Porter robot can facilitate express check-in and check-out services by handling payments and even delivering luggage to waiting vehicles.
Finally, for supermarkets, the CLOi shopping cart robot is kind of like a combination of self-checkout and some of the checkoutless retail solutions we’ve talked about in this column before. The shopping cart robot integrates a barcode reader that customers can use to scan items and view product prices as they’re placed within the robot’s bin.
All three of these are impressive concepts, and you can’t help but get excited for the myriad of applications beyond airports, hotels, and supermarkets that these technologies will help enable.
If you think about it, anywhere there is an opportunity for customer service, there is an opportunity for AI, commercial robots, and we know we will see blockchain as well make processes more efficient.
Whether it’s behind the scenes in manufacturing and other industrial arenas or directly interacting with customers, AI-powered robots are going to impact life and business in more ways that I can count.
One day, a robot may not only build your vehicle but also prescribe medication, deliver packages our doorstep, or make a transaction at a counter.
I want to hear from you on this. What applications of robotics, AI, and blockchain are you most excited about, and why? The future will continue to change and technology will only disrupt our world in ways we haven’t even begun to imagine.
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