The concept of workplace automation is nothing new, but the future of the robot workforce is bright. Businesses have implemented robotics for decades, if mostly in the realm of manufacturing.
The future may hold a different story. Technological advancements and a more widespread cultural acceptance of the concept will likely lead to the further automation of the modern world.
The robotics industry has been expanding for years, and this trend will likely continue into 2020. The International Federation of Robotics predicts that more than 3 million robots will be used in factories worldwide by the end of the year. This significant increase in industrial robotics is not the only growth one can expect.
Not only is the number of robots expected to rise, but the number of industries taking advantage of robotics will also likely increase. Robotics will begin appearing in roles previously unseen, and these roles will become more visible to the public.
1. Cognitive automation
At the meeting point between cognitive computing and artificial intelligence (AI) lies cognitive automation. With the help of more advanced AI technologies, computers can process vast amounts of information that would prove an impossible task for a human.
Cognitive automation employs tools such as language processing, data mining and semantic technology to make sense of large, unorganized pools of data. It can then use this information to produce useful predictions and analyses.
The sheer volume of data these computing systems can take on can provide businesses with information they would never have had otherwise. Companies can use the analyses supplied by cognitive automation to reassess and optimize their business practices. These enterprises will be able to make improvements they wouldn’t have known they needed.
2. Safety and security
Robotic process automation (RPA), the practice of automating repetitive business operations, offers significant potential in improving safety. Many security concerns come down to the risk of human error. Automating certain processes eliminates this concern.
Humans can get distracted and tired, leading to mistakes that could cause either physical injury or financial injury to the company. Delegating more straightforward, mundane tasks to robotic assets can ensure safety and free people up to handle more pressing, complex works.
Robotics can also improve information security. Computers are uniquely suited to handling data-heavy work, so companies can use RPA bots to keep track of the flow of sensitive information.
3. Warehouse logistics
RPA bots also prove useful in the area of warehouse logistics. Inventory management is an essential part of many businesses, but simple mistakes such as inadequate training and incorrect data entry can hinder the entire process.
Implementing robotics into warehouse logistics can help reduce these inventory errors and prevent the severe consequences that follow them. Procedural changes that might cause a human worker to make a mistake would not affect a data-driven machine.
Where an employee might miscount or forget to write something down, an automated system would keep track of everything accurately and automatically.
4. Hazardous work
Robotics not only help in areas where humans might make an error, but also when they might be in danger. An impressive 77 percent of workers in the U.K. say they would prefer that robots perform dangerous tasks instead of people. Companies can employ sturdy machines in situations that could injure a person.
Robotics manufacturers often design industrial robots optimized for a single task. Advances in technology have led to more resilient machines, allowing companies to implement them in hazardous environments.
Employing robots in dangerous areas not only reduces risk to humans, but will also enable businesses to perform new tasks previously impossible due to the dangers involved.
5. Self-driving cars
2020 may not be the year that self-driving cars take over the roads, but autonomous models will likely appear in more numbers and roles than previously seen.
Automated vehicles that travel along fixed paths, such as airport monorails, have been in use for some time. Now that these transports have proven their functionality and reliability, they are ready for deployment in other environments.
Self-driving shuttles can transport students across campuses or retirement home residents across their communities. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics may demonstrate such use of autonomous cars, using them to help athletes and spectators navigate the complex. Self-driving vehicles may even find use in larger cities for food delivery. Regardless of the specifics, the prevalence of automated cars is likely to grow in 2020.
6. Supplementing retail
The goal of robotics in business is not to replace the human workforce, but to complement it. The retail industry can be a proving ground for how robots and people can work together. As with manufacturing, machines can handle more repetitive or data-centric tasks while employees take care of jobs that require more nuance.
Using robotics to help in areas such as cleaning, inventory management or data entry will free up employees to give more attention to customers. Face-to-face interaction is a cornerstone of retail. Allowing staff more time to handle these interactions can lead to higher customer satisfaction and help brick-and-mortar retailers survive in the age of online shopping.
The main advantage physical shops have over their internet counterparts is human connectivity. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, robotics can help these retailers make the most of this advantage.
Machines are often superior in data-driven and monotonous jobs, while people are better in areas that require conversation and hospitality. Utilizing both in the areas to which they are most suited can exponentially improve businesses.
7. Health care
The medical industry requires fast and precise analyses, and robotics offers just that. While a human touch is still essential to a doctor’s work, robots can help them accomplish tasks quicker and with greater accuracy.
Tests have indicated that doctors can perform robotic surgery more than 1,000 miles away from their patients. Remote operations by way of robotics would allow the nation’s top surgeons to operate on distant patients without having to travel. Even if surgical robots don’t take off in 2020, health care will still likely become more automated.
Just as robots can transport and deliver goods in manufacturing and retail, they can move medicine and equipment through hospitals while doctors and nurses focus on other tasks.
Automated systems can keep track of patients’ status as staff members make their rounds. An industry as busy and as critical as health care has much to gain from the implementation of robotics.
The role of robotics in business has evolved to where we are today — on the cutting edge of the future. As the number of industries employing robots increases, so too shall their mark on the world of work.