i3 | July 22, 2020

COVID-19 Provides a Big Opportunity for Robotics

Murray Slovick

Before the COVID-19 pandemic some people were concerned about the rise of robots because of reports like the 2017 McKinsey study on the future of labor, which predicted a third of workers in the U.S. and between 400 and 800 million people worldwide would be replaced by automation by 2030.

But the pandemic changed everything. Consider:

  • Robotic drop-offs may become the norm when people are required to limit their contact with other people. Having a package dropped at the door by a sterile machine is now desirable.
  • According to research by consulting firm Bain & Company about 3% or 4% of grocery spending in the U.S. was online before the pandemic, but that has risen to 10% to 15%.
  • To mitigate future global supply chain risks, U.S. manufacturers are expected to increase in-house manufacturing through automation and robotics rather than outsourcing. Supply chain infrastructure will focus on improving resiliency via robotic material handling, preparation and delivery.
  • Companies are using robots to increase social distancing and reduce staff that physically needs to come to work. Robots are also being used to perform roles workers cannot do at home.
  • And fnally, technology can protect humans. Robots, after all, can’t get viruses (with the exception of the software variety).

In this context the idea of relying on robotics, is advantageous. Post-COVID-19, the global industrial robotics market is expected to grow from U.S. $44.6 billion in 2020 to U.S. $73 billion by 2025 according to ResearchAndMarkets. com. That’s a CAGR of 10.4% during the forecast period.

The New Normal

Locomotion Self-Driving Trucks

Switching from Self-Driving Cars to Trucks

During the coronavirus crisis, self-driving truck developer TuSimple’s 40 18-wheel semis were delivering much-needed freight, mail and food between Phoenix and El Paso, Texas, hauling for UPS, the U.S. Postal Services and Berkshire Hathaway’s McLane, which distributes grocery and non-food to convenience stores, wholesale clubs, drug stores and military bases.

Elsewhere, Locomation has partnered with trucking and transportation logistics company Wilson Logistics to move cargo on self-driving trucks between Oregon and Idaho. With Locomation’s Autonomous Relay Convoy (ARC) technology one driver can pilot a lead truck equipped with technology augmentation while a following truck operates in tandem through a fully autonomous system. The result: an estimated 33% reduction in operating cost per mile and 8% reduction in fuel expense.

Restaurants and Hotels

In a post-COVID world, robot waiters may greet and serve you at restaurants, ensuring that social distancing rules are followed. Robots can free up human staff who are busy taking orders. Robot duties will include serving drinks and dishes and returning used cutlery. Robotic interaction in hotels could facilitate more socially distanced models of operation to enable a safer and faster reopening and recovery. For example, robots at the check in desk can create room keys and obtain registration information.

Robotic Cleaners

Transforma' eXtreme Disinfection roBOT (XDBOT)

As pandemic restrictions ease, a robotic workforce can keep our offices clean as workers safely return to their desks. Researchers from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore have developed a semi-autonomous robot that can disinfect large surfaces quickly. Called XDBOT (eXtreme Disinfection robot) it can be wirelessly controlled via a laptop or tablet, removing the need for cleaners to be in contact with potentially contaminated surfaces. Instead of a conventional pressure-spray nozzle, it uses an electrostatic-charged nozzle to ensure a wider spread of the disinfectant. XDBOT navigates semi-autonomously using LIDAR and high-definition cameras, while its arm is controlled by a human operator. It can disinfect a surface area of up to four times that of manual cleaning.

The coronavirus has provided robotics developers with the opportunity to show what can be achieved with these machines. 

Subscribe to i3 Magazine

I3, the flagship magazine from the Consumer Technology Association (CTA)®, focuses on innovation in technology, policy and business as well as the entrepreneurs, industry leaders and startups that grow the consumer technology industry. Subscriptions to i3 are available free to qualified participants in the consumer electronics industry.