Now that robots are more science than fiction, we thought we would take a look at what developments are being made globally to bring us closer to an autonomous world.
New uses of technology are starting to greatly assist the healthcare, agriculture and manufacturing industries, so we are focusing on these sectors to see the latest and greatest autonomous robots working to drive future development.
The concept of a robot doctor became reality with the development of InTouch Health’s robot, RP-VITA. It is designed to act as a doctor without the need to have a human equivalent nearby. RP-VITA became the first FDA-cleared robot for telemedicine with autonomous navigation technology; enabling it to move seamlessly around any hospital.
The RP-VITA can be directed via a WI-FI connected device to move under a clinician’s direction, and respond as requested, providing a physical extension of the doctor if for some reason they can’t be physically there at that moment. In 2016 InTouch Health’s robots were in 700 hospitals and handled 80,000 physician-patient interactions.
It is particularly useful in the emergency room and critical-care units, where time and access to specialists via video feed can literally mean the difference between life and death. A doctor can direct the robot to the bed of a patient who needs immediate attention and advise medical staff and patients on the scene. It really is a remarkable leap forward in the delivery of healthcare and surely heralds the future.
Agriculture is poised to become an industry ruled by robot labourers and it is companies like Hands-Free Hectare (HFHa) that are leading the way. They have just completed the first full harvest of spring barley solely operated by autonomous machine labour – quite an impressive feat.
The team modified an Iseki tractor and a Sampo combine to include a custom automation system. All of the systems working the field sent feedback to a central mission control system, allowing for real-time human monitoring.
While the machines themselves operated independently, many important decisions were still in the hands of humans, though in time the development of AI will remove this requirement too. Precision agriculture, combined with the efficiency of automation, heralds an ever more efficient and cost-effective solution to feeding our growing population.
Collaborative robots – also known as force-limited robots – are the latest development to begin reshaping the manufacturing sector and have broken new ground in automation. Rethink Robotics and ABB robotics have been at the vanguard of this wave and have made huge strides over the past few years to get the industrial robot out from behind the cage to work side-by-side with people on factory floors.
The eventual realisation of their vision has been a great success. Their latest robot models, Intera 5 and YuMi, both include force-limiting and onboard vision attributes that make them safe for people to work next to. These features allow the robot to ‘see and sense’ force and remove itself – say if it was touching a human.
They are also both examples of ‘smart robots’ that learn from being taught rather than having to be programmed – a sophisticated and further autonomous function of recent robotics. Intera 5 and YuMi are both designed with capabilities to complete multiple tasks, another advance as they are not job-specific robots.
The train-by-demonstration interface has revolutionised how quickly robots can be deployed. The smart robot has become an increasingly valuable team member for manufacturing companies and across industries globally, alleviating menial work and providing a solution to rising labour costs.
The attraction of autonomous robots is an obvious one to the industry. But whilst we will undoubtedly soon see many human jobs be eradicated by the onset of low-cost, efficient and self-teaching robots, we will also see a rise in the number of tech jobs to support this robotic revolution.
According to Gartner, the technology research firm, software, robots and other smart machines will replace one in three jobs currently conducted by humans by the year 2025. However, while robot productivity is dramatically higher than our human capabilities, we will require a human workforce to manage the new robotic environment with a very different skill set to that present today in many factories across the world.
Unwanted, repetitive and many manual positions will be filled by an ultra-productive robot that’s perfect for the job – but they will all need someone who knows how to keep them working! Just like in the first wave of industrialisation, it will bring many new jobs to the world, whilst also rendering many current roles obsolete. We are only at the beginning of The Fourth Industrial Revolution. The journey promises to be an exciting one!