If the 2020 coronavirus pandemic showed us anything it’s that we’re going to need to make some changes. One of those changes is investing in robotics. A lot of the public, especially before the global health pandemic, believed that robots would ruin society and ruin life as they knew it. Those robots could replace human jobs and those workers would be unemployed. Then there was the more extreme viewpoint that robots would end up taking over the world.
That viewpoint could be shifting dramatically since most of the world experienced some of their worst fears during the outbreak of COVID-19. The outbreak affected many aspects of someone’s daily life. People couldn’t go to their jobs because of the fear of infection and infecting others. And if people weren’t showing up to their jobs that affected supply chains worldwide. Supply chains that were normally very efficient slowed down drastically. For the U.S. that gave an already slowing economy even more worries. For Americans, not only did you have to worry about the virus, but you also had to fear not being able to eat or have access to everyday items that you’ve become dependent on.
Experts are saying this might not be the last time that we experience a health crisis like this. That we could see this happening again and it possibly being an even greater risk. That’s why the world needs to be prepared for any future outbreaks. One of those ways is going to be by incorporating robots into some of the most prominent industries. Accepting robots into our lives will be one of the smartest decisions that we make for our future.
Based on an MHI report on the supply chain in 2020, the adoption rate for robotics and automation increased more than any other supply chain technology between 20199 and 2020 -- adoption accounted for 32% adoption of robotics. Before COVID-19 and the weaknesses that it exposed there was an obvious desire to increase robotics and automation to manufacturing and supply chains. The manufacturing industry sees robotics as one of the most important ways to grow and mature its industry and is a very important long-term investment for companies within the industry.
The proof of that need for robots in the manufacturing industry is evident. An IDC 2020 supply chain survey revealed that 73% of its respondents say that robotics will be important or very important to their organization in the next three years. Right now in manufacturing robots are a part of the workforce. They have been engineered and programmed to be good at specific and repetitive tasks. For example, a warehouse robot will be given the job to bring a cart from aisle to aisle to human workers to pick items, which would reduce the number of steps and time for that worker to go get the items themselves.
Then there are some robots in manufacturing that have a highly specific and specialized task like completing complex sanding patterns on contoured surfaces using a point-and-click interface. Joe Campbell, Universal Robots’ Senior Manager of Strategic Marketing and Applications said, “They [robots] have reduced a multiday programming operation down to a 20-minute task.” Imagine getting a highly unique and specific task completed in less than an hour or a day –– a task that could take a human more than a day to complete. This would ramp up production significantly.
During the coronavirus pandemic, new practices needed to be put in place in order to continue to work. Companies had to meet certain health guidelines from the government to remain open and to keep works safe, but some of those companies weren’t equipped to follow those guidelines. Implementing those changes would take some time and would also be costly. It also had the risk of not even being useful because even the government was “learning-as-they-go” when it came to this virus and pandemic.
Director of Partners and Alliances at 6 River Systems, a warehouse automation & fulfillment solutions company, Guy Courtin said:
Since COVID, we have seen an uptick in companies coming back to robotics. It helps in a time of reduced labor and enables labor to stay 6 feet apart in warehouses. [We] have had HR staff that previously blocked it tell us they want to bring automation in.
No one knows what the future holds when it comes to more pandemics that could be similar or worse than what we experienced with COVID-19, but investing in robots to keep things going or allowing for people to be at a safe distance from other people gives companies the opportunity to stay open and to keep making products and continuing those supply chains.
Health Care Robots
For this instance, of a global virus pandemic using robotics to help combat viruses and outbreaks would be extremely beneficial. Having more robots would reduce person-to-person contact, and that would help in having fewer healthcare workers getting sick. It would also help with not using so much of personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies. This could help with keeping supplies of PPE well-stocked and not getting to a point where it would run out.
The future of medicine and healthcare could be very different because of robots. Telemedicine has become popular and most health insurances include telemedicine in their healthcare plans. This brings a health care professional to you either through your phone or computer. Giving people access to professionals if they weren’t able to leave their house. With robots there’s the idea of telenursing –– a human nurse being able to remotely control a robot to perform most patient care. The robot would be the nurse’s eyes, ears, and body.
This would be helpful during an instance where people needed to practice social distancing or wear PPE. A robot nurse could go in and take vitals for the nurse while staying away from the patient –– reducing infection rate to doctors and nurses. To make telenursing a reality it would involve robotic manipulation, teleconferencing, augmented reality, health sensors, and low-latency communication networks which are all technologies that have been maturing every day.
Another way for robotics to help healthcare and medical professionals is having autonomous robots that are able to disinfect hospital rooms with ultraviolet light, transfer specimen samples, deliver food, medicine, and supplies. Having a robot available to communicate with patients, show a visual inspection, and observing a patient’s room and the equipment and monitors that they are hooked up to would again be very helpful to a hospital and its workers.
These types of robots are being called telepresence robots and companies like VGo Communications, Beam Robotics, and Double Robotics have already shown to be helpful to healthcare workers during COVID-19.
Robots in the agricultural industry show to be promising. These robots could provide more opportunities for harvesting management, field mapping, dairy farm management, soil management, irrigation management, pruning management, weather tracking and forecasting, and inventory management.
Robotics will be helpful when it comes to the possibility of labor shortages because current farmers are getting older and the younger generation doesn’t find living and farming in rural communities a priority. Most are living in cities and getting jobs in those cities. A company called, the Small Robot Company is based in England and it’s developing FarmBots called –– Tom, Dick, and Harry. These robots will plant, feed, and weed arable crops with minimal waste. Tom, Dick, and Harry will be controlled and directed by Wilma, the artificial intelligent (AI) “brain” behind this operation.
Then there are robots that are saving wine –– these robots have ultraviolet light lamps and move around vineyards at night to help kill powdery mildew which is a destructive pathogen for many crops like grapes. This is happening in Geneva, New York, researchers at Cornell AgriTech has partnered with the Norway company, SAGA Robotics, to develop the first commercial robotic units and autonomous vehicle robots that’ll be on the market this year. David, Gadoury, the Senior Research Associate in the Department of Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology at Cornell Agritech said, “For Chardonnay grapes, we’ve got effective suppression of powdery mildew over a period of two years, with treatments once a week.”
A recent forecast report, from Research And Markets, shows that the global agricultural robot market is expected to grow with a CAGR of 29% from 2019 to 2024. Some of the driving forces for this market are the concerns about food supply, increasing adoption of new technologies in farming for maximum profitability and productivity, cost savings, and government support to adopt robots has an initiative for more modern agricultural techniques.
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