The future is already here. Many of us already use robots in our home (to do the vacuuming), or work alongside ‘ro-workers’ on a packing or production line. Ongoing developments in AI, the open-source availability of algorithms, together with the cloud, are helping to create the ideal conditions for a robot revolution. And it’s closer than you think.
Forward-thinking organisations are already investing heavily in robotic technologies, which have the potential to revolutionise entire industries. Due to globalisation and an increasingly affordable cost of entry, robotic solutions are also becoming more accessible for smaller businesses, as the cost barrier slowly breaks down. So what does the robotic future hold?
Key trends and markets
Last year, the industrial robot market was estimated at $50bn, seeing nearly 400,000 shipments across multiple markets globally. In 2020, tens of thousands of new industrial robots were installed around the world, with the electronics and automotive industries leading the way. And with 86,000 units installed in ‘unspecified industries’ there is a clear indication that like its AI counterpart, robotics has business potential across a broad range of markets.
Healthcare is one sector where robotics is already in real-world use. In fact, pioneering regions such as the UAE have been integrating this life-changing technology for some time. As far back as 2014, the Ministry of Health and Prevention announced the launch of the first robots to perform catheterisation and cardiac surgeries at Al Qasimi Hospital. Rather than replacing healthcare professionals, robotic instruments are being used to enable greater precision, and enable the undertaking of complex surgery which is minimally invasive.
With a 99.1per cent clinical success rate, this has led to further applications in gynaecology and obstetrics. In fact, the applications for robotics in healthcare are as broad as the field itself. From less intrusive surgeries to robotic lifting machines for immobile patients, healthcare practices look set to benefit from advances in robotics technology.
Like healthcare, warehousing and logistics has a long-established relationship with robotics. Once the preserve of large-scale market leaders, the automated warehouse is fast-becoming a tangible possibility for smaller and medium-sized enterprises, enabling them to gain a stronger foothold in a competitive market.
With technology ranging from robot pickers to self-guided carts, robotics informed by big data and AI presents ongoing opportunities to disrupt ways of working in warehouses and logistics. Alongside this development comes improvement in safety on the factory floor. Unlike humans, robots are always able to perform at their best. This means there’s huge potential in using AI and machine learning to actively assess risk, and then take preventative actions.
On the theme of health and logistics, back in 2017 the UAE’s Ministry Of Health And Prevention launched a robotic pharmacy to dispense and deliver medicines in the clinics of the Al Fujairah Hospital. Through the use of barcodes, the robot is able to dispense up to 12 prescriptions in less than 60 seconds. This remarkable time-saving technology also ensures the correct medicines are dispensed from a store of up to 35,000.
Robots in the form of unmanned drones have been on the radar for some time now. In the military, they can be flown over areas of conflict or deployed for surveillance. They’re also used in disaster scenarios, providing more precise and accurate data to response teams.
The British Army is currently trialling the use of autonomous robots to deliver things like food and fuel in areas of conflict. In 2017, the Dubai Police unveiled their first robot officer which enabled people to report crimes, pay fines, and more, under an ambitious plan to create a 25 pr cebt robotic police force by 2030.
Accelerated, in part, by the global pandemic, the fourth industrial revolution is very much underway. An increasing number of manufacturers are seeking to capitalise on the benefits of big data, artificial intelligence and the internet of things (IoT) in industrial technologies.
Greater connectivity facilitates more streamlined manufacturing processes, real-time data insights, and through the selective deployment of robots, improved safety and operational efficiency.
Broadly speaking, when repetitive tasks are automated by robots, errors are reduced, and humans can focus on work which can add greater value. Automation through robots also enables high-volume manufacturing processes to be carried out accurately and at speed.
For instance, the UAE uses robots to produce car licence plates in Dubai. No human action is required between the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) receiving an order and plates being created. It can handle up to 33,000 licence plates per day.
You know that science fiction has truly become a science reality with the dawn of autonomous vehicles. Combining a multitude of smart tech, from Lidar to cameras, we’re on the precipice of an evolution in transport, with every major car manufacturer in hot pursuit of viable self-driving technologies.
Whilst media attention is usually drawn to domestic vehicles and taxis, it’s anticipated that heavy-goods vehicles are a likely early-stage market, enabling long-distance drivers to be flip between autopilot and manual control. And the potential for self-driving vehicles on the warehouse and factory floor is another scenario worth considering. In a smaller, more tightly structured environment, they could provide additional safety and efficiency in material handling.
The rise of the robots
The disruptive potential of robots across a range of industries is undeniable. Advances in AI and machine learning are bringing about smarter solutions to the world’s problems, that are quicker and more efficient than ever before.
From our homes to the factory floor, robotics informed by AI, machine learning, and IoT offers the potential for game-changing solutions which are closer than we think.
As the cost of components gets cheaper, access to open-source coding increases, and a subscription-based model of ‘robots as a service’ gains traction, a revolution in robotics is on the horizon.
Forward-thinking businesses would do well to seek out and invest in future partners who can enable them to leverage the true potential of robotic technology, and its business-transforming capabilities.
Anisha Sagar is the head of marketing and communication at Meydan Free Zone