Boom in Robot Advances Expected Over Next Three Years

From a spike in drone use, to advancing intelligence, to better robot coordination, IDC offers 10 predictions on the future of robots – all pointing to growth and efficiency.
  • IDC, robots, robotics, mobile robots, mobile robots, manufacturing, fulfillment

    Research firm, IDC, has released its annual report on the development of robots: IDC FutureScape Robotics 2018 Predictions. The report presents predictions by IDC’s robotics team as to the development of robotics from 2018 through 2021.

    The development and deployment of robotics in a variety of industries has expanded in 2017. The rapid convergence of robotics and artificial intelligence technologies has accelerated the development of next-generation intelligent robots for industrial, commercial, and consumer applications.

    Mobility Is Key to Adoption

    The analysts found a number of patterns in robot development and deployment. For one, mobile robots are gaining traction over their stationary siblings.

    “The most interesting development is the growth of the mobile platform robot with the capability to attach a variety of components. These are service robots for warehouse and fulfillment centers. Companies like Locus are building these collaborative robots,” John Santagate, research director of service robotics at IDC Manufacturing Insights told Design News. “The collaborative part helps to drive adoption since it allows people to work safely around the robots.”

    Security robots now roam a variety of facilities. The key to the new generation of security robots is mobility. “The mobility is a big part of security robots. A fixed security robot is no better than a security camera,” said Santagate. “What’s driving their adoption is their mobility and versatility. They can even smell.”

    Robots Can Find Their Way Around Unmapped Environments

    In the past, mobile robots were designed to travel a specific mapped territory. Smart robots have grown beyond that restriction. “The important part of mobility is the robot’s ability to autonomously navigate an unknown environment,” said Santagate. “They can sense an obstruction and seek for another path. They can see a human and move out of the way. They understand what’s going on around them.”

    One mobility robots is catching on as a hospital aide, moving safely down busy halls as it carries its cargo to individual hospital rooms. “The TUG robot from Aethon is a good example mature mobile robot. It takes medication and supplies to hospital rooms,” said Santagate. “It navigates multiple floors, traveling in restricted areas, in elevators, and through doors. That’s a high level of sophistication.”

  •  IDC, robots, robotics, mobile robots, mobile robots, manufacturing, fulfillment

    Prediction 1: Spike in Robot Adoption

    By 2019, robot adoption will have increased by one-third, with 60% of G2000 high-tech manufacturers having deployed industrial robots in manufacturing operations.

    Robotics was ranked the top priority technology investment among survey respondents from manufacturing companies. The assembly of components/modules is the most common robotics applications by high-tech manufacturing companies surveyed. Some of the key growing application areas identified include precision assembly, test and inspection, and material handling.

    IDC expects these trends will continue, as manufacturing companies are exploring ways to increase their operational agility and productivity, while, at the same time, industrial robot vendors are expanding beyond their traditional customer base of automotive. Robot vendors are moving into high-tech manufacturing with new product launches of lightweight articulated robots, high-precision SCARA robots, and more user friendly collaborative robots.

    Image courtesy of BI Intelligence.

  •  IDC, robots, robotics, mobile robots, mobile robots, manufacturing, fulfillment

    Prediction 2: Intelligent Features and Analytics

    By 2020, 45% of newly installed industrial robots will be equipped with at least one of the intelligent features such as predictive analytics, health condition awareness, self-diagnosis, peer learning, or autonomous cognition.

    Industry 4.0 continues to drive digital transformation for the manufacturing industry, which calls for smart manufacturing, smart factory, intelligent equipment, intelligent industrial robots, and cloud-enabled cyber-physical systems. In response to these needs and customer demand, leading industrial robot vendors are racing to develop, incorporate, and integrate artificial intelligence technologies with robotics for next-generation industrial robots.

    IDC expects that more industrial robots will be equipped with ubiquitous sensing and connectivity and other intelligent capabilities such as predictive analytics, self-health condition awareness, self-diagnosis, peer learning, and autonomous cognition.

    Sensing and connectivity will enable the robots to better understand and be aware of their work

    environment and constraints, as well as all entities that the robots need to interact with, including products to be processed, manufacturing equipment, test and inspection devices, human counterparts, and peer robot workers. The intelligent capabilities embedded in the robots, and/or enabled through cloud, will allow the robot to make more intelligent, autonomous decisions relating to its task or environment or itself.

    Image courtesy of New Horizon Analytics.

  •  IDC, robots, robotics, mobile robots, mobile robots, manufacturing, fulfillment

    Prediction 3: Coordinating Robots

    By 2021, the emergence of intelligent robotic agents that supervise and coordinate robots will have boosted the overall efficiency of industrial robots by 30%.

    Industrial robots are becoming an integral part of the manufacturing plant floor, whether for the production of automotive, electronics, or consumer packaged goods. In these industrial applications, robots have been widely deployed to perform various tasks such as material processing (such as cutting, welding, polishing), assembly, material handling, machine tending, and palletizing.

    Some of these robots are single-task machines that can only carry out one task, whereas others may be equipped with capabilities to perform multiple tasks with minimum setup or with automated tool changers. In addition to robots that are locked at fixed locations, leading industrial robot vendors are also investing in mobile industrial robots that can self-drive autonomously to different deployment stations on the plant floor to carry out assigned manufacturing tasks with added flexibility.

    Depending on the application context and capabilities of the robot controllers, industrial robots

    presently are often connected to a master PLC, a PAC, an IPC, or a dedicated cell controller. Such hierarchical control systems are typically rigid in their structure, hence limiting the flexibility and agility promised by the adoption of robotics technology in manufacturing.

    Image courtesy of RoboCup Federation.

  •  IDC, robots, robotics, mobile robots, mobile robots, manufacturing, fulfillment

    Prediction 4: Improvements in Productivity

    By 2021, 30% of G2000 manufacturers will have deployed cyber-physical robotic systems, resulting in a 10-20% improvement in productivity.

    The concept of a cyber-physical system forms the foundation of Industry 4.0. CPS promotes the integration and fusion of the physical world (materials, equipment, people, facility, production lines, robots) and the cyber or digital world residing in computers local and/or in the cloud.

    With an integrated CPS, manufacturing companies have the added capability and advantage of programming, simulating, debugging, and validating any organization of plant floor production resources in the cyber or digital world, before physically effecting the changes on the plant floor. This will significantly reduce the time to deployment of manufacturing resources and the number of possible issues or failures that may occur with the traditional approach.

    It’s a natural course for industrial robotics technology to develop and move forward adopting the cyber-physical robotic system paradigm. Industrial robots today can be controlled or monitored by computer-based algorithms, tightly integrated with cloud-based architectures. On top of that, advancement in artificial intelligence, data analytics, and sensor technology is raising robot IQ to new heights, opening the way for a complete rethinking of the way robots operate.

    Image courtesy of the Brookings Institution.

  •  IDC, robots, robotics, mobile robots, mobile robots, manufacturing, fulfillment

    Prediction 5: Mobile Security Robot Growth

    By 2020, the worldwide market for mobile security robots will have grown by nearly 300%, augmenting human security, with 30% of mobile security robots being equipped with onboard drones to deploy as necessary.

    Mobility, connectivity, and robotics have come together, resulting in the emergence of the mobile security robot. These devices are capable of autonomous movement across a variety of surfaces. Security robots are equipped with a multitude of sensors and vision systems, which enables them to see, smell, hear, and sense their surroundings in order to capture data about the environment around them.

    Security robots are increasingly being utilized to augment human security efforts, across a wide range of locations and facilities. Where deployed, mobile security robots are serving as a first line of deterrence and threat assessment as they create a physical presence without stretching the resources of human security offices. The robots feed video, audio, and other sensor data to a central command that is operated by manned security guards.

    Image courtesy of SMP Robotics.

  •  IDC, robots, robotics, mobile robots, mobile robots, manufacturing, fulfillment

    Prediction 6: Modular Components Offer Multiple Functionality

    By 2019, 25% of mobile robotic deployments will include the ability to add on modular components enabling multiple uses on the same mobile platform, thus delivering up to 30% productivity and efficiency gains.

    Mobile robots are playing a significant role in the growth of robotics outside of the traditional industrial manufacturing applications. Advancements in mobility, navigation, and safety have led to mobile robotics being considered in a variety of industries such as manufacturing, warehousing, hospitality, healthcare, and energy and utilities.

    Analysts at IDC believe that adoption of robotics will accelerate as manufacturers of mobile robots deliver devices with the capability to perform different business processes on a common mobile platform. In this instance, the common mobile platform relates to a standard physical mobile robot with autonomous navigation capabilities that can be easily equipped with a variety of add-on components, thus extending the capabilities of the robot.

    IDC sees this advancement as more than the ability to equip a mobile device with different-sized bins. An example would be a mobile robot that is equipped with bins for the picking process, but with the same mobile device equipped with an RFID reader that can traverse the warehouse and conduct inventory counting.

    Image courtesy of Autonomous Systems and Biomechatronics Lab at the University of Toronto.

  •  IDC, robots, robotics, mobile robots, mobile robots, manufacturing, fulfillment

    Prediction 7: Fulfillment Robots Reduce Shipping Costs

    By 2020, 30% of the top 100 retailers will be using or piloting robots within the ship-from-store fulfillment process, helping reduce the cost of ship-from-store orders by up to 20%.

    The rise of ecommerce and the decentralization of inventory to minimize travel distance of goods have created a need to improve ship-from-store capabilities. The current strategy typically involves cross-training employees to pick and pack as part of the fulfilment process. However, this increases pressure on employees to speed up or shift their focus away from customers in the store to focus on the fulfillment process. Neither of these options are ideal.

    An alternative approach is the use of robots. Robots can help reduce the added pressure on store personnel while enabling the retailer to efficiently pick and pack from store inventory. By implementing robots into the process, retail stores can increase the capabilities of the in-store fulfillment process without necessarily disrupting the ongoing store operations.

    Image courtesy of Locus Robotics.

  •  IDC, robots, robotics, mobile robots, mobile robots, manufacturing, fulfillment

    Prediction 8: Mobile Robots as a Service

    By 2021, 45% of mobile robotic deployments will be by way of robot as a service, providing facilities with the ability to rapidly scale up and down during periods of demand volatility and enabling robotic deployments to shift from capex to opex.

    Increased adoption of the robotics-as-a-service ("RaaS") paradigm will change how companies integrate robotics solutions in their business workflows. A key driver of RaaS adoption is the increased viability of various robotics use cases in industry segments that are not traditionally associated with robotics technology.

    The ability to successfully leverage robotics in use cases as varied as security monitoring, room service provision, landscaping, and human-robot collaborative pick and pack will create new demand for robotics solutions from organizations that do not have expertise in managing robotics. The RaaS model will allow such organizations to extract the benefits of robotization while outsourcing solution management to third parties.

    The elastic nature of the RaaS model enables organizations to scale their robotics workflows – to adjust for seasonality or unexpected events – and expands the total addressable market for robotics-enabled solutions. The elasticity of RaaS makes robotics-enabled solutions viable for smaller organizations that would not be able to justify investments in dedicated robotics deployments due to lack of scale.

    Image courtesy of Fetch Robotics.

  •  IDC, robots, robotics, mobile robots, mobile robots, manufacturing, fulfillment

    Prediction 9: Drone Use Will Spike in Extraction and Infrastructure Industries

    By 2020, spending on drone hardware, software, and services in resource industries where drones are deployed to help map and plan infrastructure for oil, gas, and coal extraction areas and to survey and monitor thousands of acres of crops will top $1 billion.

    Resource industries are a key sector for future drone deployments. Resource extraction establishments are often located in remote locations with facilities distributed across a large physical area. The high cost of labor in remote geographical areas and the potential workplace security risks associated with some resource extraction industry segments make drone-based solutions a strong fit.

    The use of drones in resource extraction enables aerial surveying, asset monitoring and inspection, and performance management for operations and security. Drone-based surveying allows companies to conduct cost-effective 2D mapping operations, as well as ongoing operational survey work such as environmental management, and vegetation or ice mapping.

    The use of drone for inspection will significantly reduce the costs associated with monitoring

    infrastructure such as pipelines or difficult-to-reach assets such as offshore platforms or flare stacks, thus there will be less need for expensive helicopters or cranes.

    Image courtesy of 3D Robotics.

  •  IDC, robots, robotics, mobile robots, mobile robots, manufacturing, fulfillment

    Prediction 10: Consumer Robot Market Will Double by 2021

    By 2021, the consumer robot market will have doubled and next-generation AI-based robots focused less on physical tasks and more on teaching and interacting with family members will have begun to enter homes, thus improving quality of life.

    According to IDC, spending on consumer robotics products is set to grow from about $3.3 billion in 2016 to $7.2 billion in 2021. Throughout the 2017–2021 forecast period, the clear majority of the spend is on hardware, with software making up a small percentage of the total.

    To date, the most successful consumer robotics products have been primarily focused on a single primary function. Important products in this category include robots that vacuum your house, clean your pool, mow your grass, or empty your gutters. IDC believes that while these types of products will continue to drive significant revenue and profits, an increasing percentage of products in this market will shift away from single-purpose physical tasks.

    IDC expects that over time, consumer robots will become increasingly good at interacting with

    humans. A growing number of households are integrating digital assistants such as Alexa, Siri, and Cortana. These assistants are typically running on a smartphone or smart speaker. By 2021, the decedents of these assistants will embody consumer robots, and they'll play an important role in how people interact with technology.

    Image courtesy of WowWee Group.


Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 17 years, 15 of them for Design News . Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years, he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper .

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