Robotics: Shaping the Future
A few decades ago, the idea of robots helping humans in their daily lives seemed like pure science fiction. The ideological concept of robots often took the form of people, too, our media presenting machines that looked and acted just like human beings. The idea was that robots would one day be so advanced that it would be nearly impossible to distinguish them from flesh-and-blood people. While we have yet to reach the Blade Runner pinnacle of robotics, today’s robots are surprisingly critical to everyday life. You may not find Deckard-like androids walking around yet, but you very likely interact with robots every day, even if indirectly.
This article will explore the current state of robotics as well as its future. How will robots change the world in ten years? In fifty? We make some educated guesses below.
What Are Robots?
Before we get started with the future of the industry, let’s take a closer look at what modern robots look like and how they function. What comes to mind when you picture a robot? According to Encyclopedia Britannica, robots are any machine operated automatically that replaces human effort. They do not have to look like human beings, in other words, nor do they have to do things in a “humanlike” way. Instead, they are often machines with no resemblance to humans whatsoever.
There are a few different types of robots to keep in mind. These include the following, although this is not an exhaustive list:
- Automated guided vehicles.
- Articulated robots.
Of these robots, articulated robots and automated guided vehicles are some of the most common. Automated guided vehicles (AGVs) are often used to transport raw materials like rubber, paper, plastic, or metal. They can even take raw materials from their initial delivery point to warehouses and production lines. This can be done without human intervention, which means that production lines, in particular, will always have the material needed to manufacture. Articulated robots can also be used in manufacturing settings. These robots have joints that allow their “fingers” and “wrists” to operate as a human’s might. These are most well-suited for assembly and manufacturing work in warehouses and factories.
As you might have guessed, humanoid robots resemble humans, although to differing degrees. Some, such as Sophia, have realistic features clearly modeled after humans, while others, such as Pepper, lean into more of a cartoon version of humans. Experts think that humanoid robots might be best suited for social services. For example, they might help people by providing entertainment, care, or friendship. Humanoid robots are also useful for exploring dangerous areas too unsafe for, or simply inaccessible to, humans.
Co-bots are uniquely interesting as they were designed to work alongside human workers. Instead of taking over responsibilities entirely, the co-bot fosters a cooperative environment to boost the quality of work. This makes it easier for human employees to incorporate them into their daily routines for maximum efficiency.
What is Robotics?
Robotics is the industry behind robots. It is sometimes described as the “intersection” of technology, engineering, and science, and professionals in the field study, develop, and improve robots of all kinds. Recent data shows that robotics is poised to grow by roughly 15% from 2023 to 2027. This translates to an industry worth approximately $90 billion by 2027.
It is worth noting that as the field of robotics continues to grow, so does the employment of robotics engineers, with a projected 5% increase from 2016 to 2026. The career, which typically requires professionals to have completed an ECE master’s program, is poised to grow even further in the future, making it a great choice for new and experienced professionals alike. This one from Kettering University Online is the first of its kind and allows students to study 100% online and at their own pace.
Areas Where Robotics is Growing
Before we explore the specific ways robotics is shaping our future, we should discuss some of the broad areas in which robotics is projected to grow dramatically. These include manufacturing, healthcare, and emergency response. The applications below are still in their infancy, but the future looks bright for all of them.
Manufacturing is an important part of today’s society, and without effective manufacturers, it would be much more difficult to supply mass-produced items globally. However, some jobs are just too dangerous for human workers, and require more precision than they can reasonably provide. Repetitious work on assembly lines, for example, can lead to a variety of health problems, including repetitive motion ailments. The monotonous nature of this kind of work can quickly lead to inattention on the line, too, resulting in lower-quality products and potentially even more injuries.
This is where robots come in. Robots do not get tired of repetitive work and are capable of much more controlled and precise movements than humans.
Healthcare is one of the industries where robotics really shines, and it does so in a few different ways. First, remember those AGVs we talked about earlier? They can also be used in a hospital to move items quickly and accurately, including heavy equipment that might otherwise require many people to move it from one part of the hospital to another. Perhaps even more importantly, robotics can be directly used in the caregiving process itself. Since 2000, robotic devices have been approved by the FDA for surgical procedures. Robots also play a part in developing tailored treatment plans.
There is great potential for robotics to transform the way healthcare is provided, and the industry might look very different a few decades down the road.
- Emergency response
Emergency response is an industry that provides an often life-saving service for individuals experiencing natural disasters or other sensitive situations. Robots involved in earthquake search-and-rescue procedures, for example, are growing closer to being fully autonomous rather than as simple assistants always requiring human oversight. They are also useful in other emergency response situations, including high-risk operations located in zones with dangerous levels of radiation.
Other robots are being developed to build shelters quickly for individuals left without a home post-disaster. Some of them, like Hadrian X, can build a roughly 2000-square-foot home in less than three days.
Pros and cons of robots
As we have explored extensively, robotics is an industry with the potential to revolutionize many aspects of human life. From improving medical care to making manufacturing more efficient (and, in turn, potentially lowering the prices of the finished items), robots are finding many niches to occupy. With all the good comes a bit of bad, of course. As robots continue to grow in the future, it is important to remember both the benefits and drawbacks of robotic help. Here are some of the pros and cons of robots.
There are several pros to including robots in your work or organization. For example, robots make it easier for people to do their jobs by taking over routine and repetitive work. This allows human employees to devote more time and attention to truly important things, potentially boosting their efficiency and productivity.
Robots also do not need breaks or time off. Human workers need time off the clock for eating lunch, sick days, and vacations, all of which can cause workplace productivity to dip if a business is not correctly staffed. Robots, on the other hand, do not need to eat and never get bored with their work. Their attention never wanes. Additionally, robots are capable of precise, repetitive movements without variation and without leading to potential injury, to which humans are prone.
One of the biggest benefits of using robots comes from their ability to withstand adverse environments. Instead of risking human lives in a nuclear reactor core, consider how much safer it would be to have a robot completing the same tasks. Remember that robots are better suited to intricate, repetitive work and are not affected by things like anxiety or stress. The right robot used in the right situation can be incredibly helpful.
When robots work well, it can be difficult to envision potential downsides. The problem is that robots, unlike people, are not great at creative thinking. Once things begin to go wrong, robots might not be able to fix them, especially if the required fix is unconventional. This lack of flexibility is one of the reasons robots are typically overseen by humans in one way or another.
While we have already explored some ways that robots can help businesses save money, it is worth noting that they can also be costly in some situations. When something goes wrong with a robot, fixing the problem can often be quite expensive. This is especially true of the machines capable of more intricate movements and functions.
Startup costs can also be quite steep. It is an investment rather than a decision to make on a whim, and if the robot does not accomplish everything you expected, you might not make that money back. It is important to carefully consider the wisdom of adding a robot to your business before you move forward. As a final cost, you should also keep in mind that more complex robots require highly skilled handlers to get the biggest benefits. This is not a suggestion you can simply ignore, either. If something goes wrong and you do not have support staff to catch the issue, you might end up with a devastating loss on your hands.
How Has Robotics Changed the World?
With all the above in mind, how have robotics changed the world? It would be impossible to explore every example of robotics changing the world, but we have a few examples to look at.
The influence of robots is perhaps most keenly felt in business. A few decades ago, people were responsible for even the most minute jobs. Whether in the office or out in the field, people had to be as consistent as possible, even in high-stress situations. And in offices and on the assembly lines, in particular, they had to have enough focus to fight through the boredom that comes with repetitive tasks. Once our brains go on “autopilot”, it becomes incredibly difficult to focus on anything. This loss of attention typically brings mistakes and even injuries, depending on the environment at hand. Robots have done away with much of this.
Robotics has also been huge for healthcare, for many of the reasons we mentioned above. Robots are better at repeating small, precise movements than humans are. This makes them ideal for procedures that require an incredibly steady hand, such as eye surgeries. With more consistent and accurate care, patient outcomes increase, and quality of life improves. Robots are also increasingly used to measure patient vitals and perform mundane tasks such as triage in the emergency department or on the battlefield.
While we touched on this last point in an earlier section, it bears repeating. Robots have changed the way we perform search-and-rescue operations and how we respond to emergencies, and they are predicted to have an even bigger impact in the future. Today’s robots make it easier to locate people in need of help and deliver the aid they need. Building temporary shelters, for example, is just one of the ways that robots are changing the world in this manner.
These are just a few of the many ways that robots have helped change the world and revolutionize many aspects of life. From providing life-saving care to building secure housing for those with nowhere to go, robotics has not only positively impacted the world in the past but is positioned to continue doing so in the future. In fact, the hopes for robots are bright.
What do you think about the way robots have changed our world? We cannot wait to see what the future has in store for these modern-day marvels. If you are interested in seeing exactly how robotics evolves in the future, keep the information above in mind – it will help you research over the years!
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