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Impact of Collaborative Robots

Robots are not new, they grew to prominence in the twentieth century as industries moved from cottage industries to manufacturing production lines, driving growth and productivity gains that helped to drive down costs. This helped improve the lives of many people as products that were once unobtainable became accessible to the masses. In these new production environments, tasks became very repetitive and so lent themselves to being machine automated. And so, industrial robotics emerged as a new tool to improve productivity even further. These robots were pretty much stand-alone, caged off no-go areas for people. 

Photo by Lenny Kuhne

As we look forward to the Future of Work, we see a world where robots are much more engaged and interactive. Even thinking about certain aspects of their work through artificial intelligence (AI) to improve outcomes, while interacting with humans through more refined human-machine interfaces. Over the last 15 years, with the explosion in smartphones, these have been mainly touchscreen technologies but more recently we see very capable, and more natural, voice-led technologies coming to the fore as natural language AI has developed considerably over the last few years.

OLogic has been instrumental in the evolution of these collaborative robots and we have seen firsthand several markets where they have seen significant adoption, once more changing the industry and improving performance. At the core of these robots are their autonomous capabilities. These are built on computer vision and sensor networks that through software, help the robot to understand and navigate their dynamic real world environment. This sensor data is then fed to the CPU or computer brain of the robot where AI and machine learning algorithms interpret the data and instruct the robot on what to do to complete their task. At OLogic, we specialize in all aspects of these robots, even down to the design of the AI boards used to interpret and process the very high level of information data being collected by each unit. What I would like to highlight here are some of the most interesting and exciting collaborations between humans and robots that we have seen recently.

Warehouse:

Amazon is probably the most famous player in this space having purchased KIVA robotics several years ago to drive high-level automation through their fulfillment centers. These robots do one thing very well, they fetch products from one place and leave them at another one. The KIVA robots are programmed to avoid people but tend to be pretty much no-go areas for people. 

But these systems spurred yet more innovation and deeper collaboration in robotics. Two such examples are Fetch Robotics and Locus Robotics. 

Fetch Robotics is the pioneer of On-Demand Automation. Fetch’s Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) are used for optimizing each picking in fulfillment centers, optimizing case picking in distribution centers, just-in-time material delivery in manufacturing facilities, and automating manual material movement in any facility. They work in the same environment as people, moving quickly and efficiently around a facility.

Locus Robotics is a collaborative robot that works alongside workers to dramatically improve order productivity and increase fulfillment speed and throughput 2X-3X with near-perfect order accuracy, to ensure that consumers receive their orders as quickly and accurately as possible.

The great benefit of these systems is that they need little or no change to the warehouse environment making it easier to deploy and much lower cost. You get productivity improvements without a major rebuild.

Image from Locus Robotics.

Agriculture

The 3Ds of robotics are dull, dirty and dangerous. Agriculture is one such industry where the tasks are not just repetitively dull, but they are dirty and dangerous too so it’s no surprise that robots are being increasingly deployed in these industries. Unlike warehouses where the environment can be controlled, a farm is a dynamic environment where conditions change regularly hence it has been more difficult to deploy collaborative robots to the same degree. But the pressures are no less acute. Robots are now working alongside farmers to solve labor shortage issues, and companies are developing robotic solutions to give farmers more access to regenerative and precision practices to support soil health, water conservation, carbon sequestration, and nutrient-dense crops.

One such company is Verdant Robotics which recently raised $46.5 million to fund autonomous, precision farming technology. The company’s technology uses a mix of automation, deep-learning, and machine vision with sub-millimeter accuracy. Verdant is a Robotics-as-a-Service” (RaaS) and is currently being used on a wide variety of specialty crops across thousands of acres, with orders pending for tens of thousands more, according to a press release from Verdant. The technology is an autonomous platform that can weed, fertilize, and treat plants for pests and diseases, all while collecting data for farmers to make decisions in real-time.

Healthcare

This sector saw a rise in demand with the onset of Covid as the need for UV lamps increased to combat the virus. Many robotic companies quickly developed UV light platforms by adapting their warehouses or cleaning robots to help sanitize hospitals. Giving much-needed support to the fight against Covid.

One of the more stylish and sophisticated robots to see success was the da Vinci surgical robot. This amazing robot still feels like it is out of a science fiction movie. The accuracy and dexterity that this robot has provided for surgeons are truly phenomenal. These robots are now able to perform certain surgeries that require intense precision.

Another example of a robot that works in healthcare is Relay Robotics. These robots perform deliveries for all departments including pharmacy orders, blood products, and specimen samples, allowing team members to stay focused on patient care.

Security

Security robots are mobile robots that can be remotely operated or autonomous in operations. These robots assist police officials and security guards carry out their activities of day-to-day life. These robots are mainly used in unmanned transportation and defense operations, such as bomb detection, and border patrolling, thus reducing the risk to human life. A more public robot that you will see at shopping malls or on office and university campuses is Knightscope.

Knightscope develops Autonomous Security Robots (ASRs).  They use a unique combination of self-driving technology, robotics, artificial intelligence, and electric “vehicle” technology to provide humans with extra eyes, ears, and a voice on the ground. They can be in multiple locations at the same time, helping the police officer or security guard to better secure the places people live, work, study, and visit.

Wellbeing and Social Robots

Although the continual development and integration of robotics and technology into our everyday lives has the potential to affect wellbeing for the worst, there is still an abundance of ways in which such advancements have significantly improved levels of wellbeing in people. The advancement in medical technology has literally saved lives as we described above. Another area that I have a keen interest is in the social nature of robots.

One such example is Snorble. Snorble is an engaging and intelligent buddy that helps children and families develop healthy habits and bedtime routines. By blending proprietary natural language processing and AI with an animated character, Snorble creates an experience for families that has never been seen before. In an age where parents struggle to find time and children face so many social pressures, these types of companion robots are evolving to be a true best friend and help reduce anxieties.

Construction

Like agriculture, this is an old industry facing similar challenges with labor shortages, safety concerns, and pressure to increase productivity. Though the construction industry is highly unautomated, several different robots are already on the market for assisting construction professionals. Also, in the coming decade, we will be able to witness several different inventions in the field of construction automation and robotics that will completely revolutionize the architecture, engineering, and construction business, as well.

One area where the advantage of automation is already being realized is that of precision construction layouts. These robots are helping project teams dramatically reduce schedule time and rework costs through accurate, full-scale floor layouts.

Dusty Robotics claims to be 10x faster than traditional methods. This helps site managers save time on every floor by leveraging robotic layout because Dusty’s FieldPrinter can autonomously print a full-scale model onto the construction surface in a fraction of the time it takes a manual layout crew with a chalk line.

Image from Dusty Robotics.

We’re in a very privileged position at OLogic as we work on so many different types of robots. Seeing the ones that succeed and the ones that also struggle to get adopted. That experience goes into everything we do as we bring the knowledge to our clients to help them avoid the pitfalls.

Happy to discuss any of the examples we’ve listed here or take a look at your idea and see if we can help you make them a reality too! Just drop us an email or give us a call.