A few years back at Dell World, one of the most interesting talks I heard was on the coming wave of robots and how they would dramatically change the technology landscape. With the pandemic, I see many more robotic solutions that indicate this wave may have accelerated over the last year.
Thinking back to when PCs and then smartphones came out, I remember companies immediately jumped on the bandwagon while others thought they were fads that would peter out. The “fads” folks, for the most part, are no longer around.
I expect three waves of these robotic devices:
- The first wave, consisting mainly of mobile cameras, some of which have screens to interact with while others are just focused on observation (security).
- The next phase will add intelligence, enhanced mobility, and limited interaction
- The final phase will be robots that can function independently and fully interact with their environment.
Let’s talk about the coming waves of robotics.
Also read: AIOps Trends & Benefits for 2021
OmniLabs’ Healthcare Robot
Before the pandemic, a visit to my doctor generally had two people in the room with me: the doctor and a nurse or nurse’s aide to record the visit. On my latest trip, the nurse’s aide was remotely interfacing through the robot, which was more like a mobile tablet similar to what OmniLabs sells. This kind of interaction lowered the risk of infection for both the aide and me. Similar implementations have become popular in quarantine wards in hospitals and warehouses.
Although configurations like this have been around for over a decade, it took the pandemic to light a fire under their use. With large numbers of people not planning to return to work, these robots could advance even further to address the need for human remote observation without having to stream that remote view from someone else’s smartphone.
NVIDIA’s BMW Use Case
At their GTC event earlier this year, NVIDIA showcased one of the more aggressive uses of mobile robots by BMW. In one of their factories, the car manufacturer used the mobile robot to move supplies around the factory without rails, including oversized pallets of heavy materials. They worked largely autonomously and used similar technology implemented in autonomous vehicles; these robots reduced overhead, improved performance, and most importantly, improved safety in these factories.
Often injuries in automotive factories are caused by forklift drivers who are either distracted or are unable to see a worker in front of them because of the load. These uniquely designed robots sit under the load to better see in front of them and better stabilize the load, making it less likely to tip and fall, reducing the potential for injury.
Boston Robotics’ Dog
Boston Robotics is moving into the second and third generations of robotics. Their robotic dogs are increasingly autonomous, have started to test with grasping claws, and move over various surfaces; their humanoid robots have arms but not hands yet. These are being used for military and police trials. Applications appear to be mostly security, police, and military at the moment.
Still, they are exploring factory and warehouse implementations and, as costs drop, home use (i.e., elder care and hospice) is a likely future market. Eventually, designs like this will migrate to personal robotics but probably not until after the end of the decade.
We are in the Robotic Revolution
Often in technology revolutions, we don’t grasp the level of change until we are well into it. Smartphones started a slow technology pivot, but the iPhone accelerated that pivot so rapidly the companies that had dominated the space largely were wiped out.
If you are in the personal technology market and not looking at robotics, you are falling behind. If you sell to markets (defense, healthcare, manufacturing, security, law enforcement, and warehousing) where they are already appearing and not looking at this technology, it may already be too late. In that case, you may now be too late. And if you are in those markets, you should be either in evaluation or trial, so you are ready to use this technology when it makes sense.
Amazon got on this train early and bought a robotic company dedicated to their needs, once again showcasing that Amazon isn’t caught sleeping by anyone. If you haven’t yet started to consider how robots could work in our business or market, it may already be too late; this is your wake-up call.