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Is the Pandemic Spurring a Robot Revolution?

“Are robots really destined to take over restaurant kitchens?” This was the headline of an article revealed by Eater 4 years in the past. One of the specialists interviewed was Siddhartha Srinivasa, at the time professor of the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University and presently director of Robotics and AI for Amazon. He stated, “I’d love to make robots unsexy. It’s weird to say this, but when something becomes unsexy, it means that it works so well that you don’t have to think about it. You don’t stare at your dishwasher as it washes your dishes in fascination, because you know it’s gonna work every time… I want to get robots to that stage of reliability.”

Have we managed to get there over the final 4 years? Are robots unsexy but? And how has the pandemic modified the trajectory of automation throughout industries?

The Covid Effect

The pandemic has had a huge financial impression throughout the world, and certainly one of the issues confronted by many firms has been holding their companies operating with out placing staff prone to an infection. Many organizations are looking for to stay operational in the brief time period by automating duties that might in any other case be carried out by people. According to Digital Trends, since the begin of the pandemic now we have seen a important improve in automation efforts in manufacturing, meat packing, grocery shops and extra. In a June survey, 44 % of company monetary officers stated they had been contemplating extra automation in response to coronavirus.

MIT economist David Autor described the financial disaster and the Covid-19 pandemic as “an event that forces automation.” But he added that Covid-19 created a type of disruption that has compelled automation in sectors and actions with a scarcity of employees, whereas at the similar time there was no discount in demand. This hasn’t taken place in hospitality, the place demand has virtually disappeared, however it’s nonetheless current in agriculture and distribution. The latter is being altered by the fast development of e-commerce, with extra environment friendly and automatic warehouses that may present higher service.

China Leads the Way

China is presently in a distinctive place to guide the world’s automation economic system. Although the nation boasts a enormous workforce, labor prices have multiplied by 10 over the previous 20 years. As the world’s manufacturing unit, China has a robust incentive to automate its manufacturing sector, which enjoys a strong management in top quality merchandise. China is presently the largest and fastest-growing market in the world for industrial robotics, with a 21 % improve as much as $5.4 billion in 2019. This represents one third of worldwide gross sales. As a consequence, Chinese firms are creating a important benefit when it comes to studying to work with metallic colleagues.

The causes behind this Asian dominance are evident: the inhabitants has a larger capability and wish for tech adoption. A big share of the inhabitants will quickly be of retirement age, with out an equal youthful demographic to interchange it, resulting in a urgent have to undertake automation in the brief time period.

China is effectively forward of different nations in restaurant automation. As reported in Bloomberg, in early 2020 UBS Group AG performed a survey of over 13,000 shoppers in numerous nations and located that 64 % of Chinese individuals had ordered meals by way of their telephones at the very least as soon as a week, in comparison with a mere 17 % in the US. As digital ordering positive aspects floor, robotic waiters and cooks are doubtless not far behind. The West harbors a distrust in the direction of non-humans that the East doesn’t.

The Robot Evolution

The pandemic was a good excuse for robots to interchange us. But regardless of the hype round this concept, robots have principally upset throughout the pandemic.

Just over 66 totally different sorts of “social” robots have been piloted in hospitals, well being facilities, airports, workplace buildings, and different private and non-private areas in response to the pandemic, in line with a examine from researchers at Pompeu Fabra University (Barcelona, Spain). Their survey checked out 195 robotic deployments throughout 35 nations together with China, the US, Thailand, and Hong Kong.

But if the “robot revolution” is a motion wherein automation, robotics, and synthetic intelligence proliferate by way of the worth chain of assorted industries, bringing a paradigm shift in how we produce, eat, and distribute merchandise—it hasn’t occurred but.

But there’s a extra nuanced reply: somewhat than a revolution, we’re seeing an incremental robotic evolution. It’s a pattern that can doubtless speed up over the subsequent 5 years, significantly when 5G takes heart stage and robotics as a area leaves behind imitation and evolves independently.

Automation Anxiety

Why don’t we lastly welcome the long-promised robotic takeover? Despite progress in AI and elevated adoption of business robots, consumer-facing robotic merchandise aren’t almost as ubiquitous as widespread tradition predicted a long time in the past. As Amara’s Law says: “We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.” It appears we live by way of the Gartner hype cycle.

People have a difficult relationship with robots, torn between admiring them, fearing them, rejecting them, and even boycotting them, as has occurred in the vehicle trade.

retail robot
Retail robotic in a Walmart retailer. Credit: Bossa Nova Robotics

Walmart terminated its contract with Bossa Nova and withdrew its 1,000 stock robots from its shops as a result of the firm was involved about how buyers had been reacting to seeing the six-foot robots in the aisles.

With highway blocks like this, will the World Economic Forum’s prediction of virtually half of duties being carried out by machines by 2025 come to cross?

At the charge we’re going, it appears unlikely, even with the increase in automation attributable to the pandemic. Robotics will proceed to advance its capabilities, and can take over extra human jobs because it does so, however it’s unlikely we’ll hit a dramatic inflection level that could possibly be described as a “revolution.” Instead, the robotic evolution will occur the approach most societal change does: incrementally, with time for folks to adapt each virtually and psychologically.

For now although, robots are nonetheless fairly horny.

Image Credit: charles taylor /

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