The world of robots

Robots will not replace humans, they are autonomous, but never self-sufficient. What they do avoid are tedious and dangerous jobs and tasks, to increase job security and free our creativity.

Robots, mechanical machines that mimic human behaviour, have been around since ancient Greece. But thanks to recent advances in telecommunications, image recognition and machine learning, they are much closer to revolutionising Industry 4.0 and business models. Here, we look at some of the most interesting applications of robotics. Robots will not replace humans - they are autonomous, but never self-sufficient. They will replace tedious and dangerous jobs and tasks, to increase job security and unleash our creativity.

In medicine, robots can also contribute to research and education. Thanks to advances in artificial intelligence, it is estimated that the process of discovering, developing, regulating, manufacturing and distributing new drugs could be accelerated. In addition to the obvious benefits of making new treatments available faster, these advances could greatly reduce the cost of drug development, which is currently estimated at more than $350 million. In education, robots provide access to simulations and training scenarios similar to real life, and could also create personalised tests based on real and current cases, tailored to the needs of each student.

Beyond the world of healthcare, robots will soon transform our industry, allowing us to move towards Industry 4.0, which harnesses the latest technological advances and connects devices to create smart, autonomous factories. One of the advantages of the new industrial robots is their ability to see and assess the environment, through tools known as machine visionindustrial vision. Thanks to new advanced cameras, capable of detecting wavelengths beyond the spectrum visible to the human eye, robots can interact with other elements around them, and make decisions based on the signals received. With the growth of small sensors and interconnected devices in the internet of things, robots will be able to communicate and collaborate to create more efficient and safer industries. Among other futuristic applications, multinational Fanuc is working on developing robots that can learn from others, as well as teach newcomers to the plant floor. With advances in artificial intelligence and data transmission, these technologies will grow by 175% over the next decade, while at the same time lowering manufacturing costs and advancing the development of electronic chips and devices.

The adoption of robots and other automated and automated machines will be a direct determinant of overall productivity growth and has the potential to adapt supply chains to the new needs of a globalised world. Contrary to popular belief, the robotisation of industry will not harm employment. In fact, experts believe that it will improve working conditions, and allow many factories to be moved out of countries in the global south, thus decentralising production, democratising access to new products and boosting economic development through innovation.

Robots made from cells

Soft robots have also gained increasing prominence, due to attractive properties such as resilience, self-repair and even self-replication. In general, soft robots bring properties and versatility comparable to nature, thanks to developments in new materials and flexible electronics.

Space agencies such as NASA and ESA have begun to show interest in swarm technologies, with activities such as the Swarmathon competition and research such as Smallsat Networks' Edison Demonstration, which uses a distributed approach to drastically reduce the cost of satellite deployment, without sacrificing functionality. In swarm robotics, the unique use of decentralised control that relies on local communication and information provides the key advantage of, firstly, scalability and, secondly, robustness. But the big challenge for space applications is the autonomy of the swarm system, which cannot rely on constant intervention by human operators.

The market for professional service robots, one of the main targets for these innovations, grew by 12% in 2020 to reach USD 6.7 billion. The global pandemic created new opportunities and additional demand for some applications, such as professional cleaning, although one in three professional service robots sold in 2020 continued to be used for transporting goods. 47% of service robot suppliers are in Europe, 27% in North America and 25% in Asia. Globally, 82% of the companies in the sector are small or medium-sized companies with up to 500 employees.

Two key trends in the industry are the development of user interfaces that allow easy icon-based programming and manual guidance of robots, for which robot companies and some third-party suppliers are bundling hardware and software packages to facilitate implementation; and low-cost robotics, based on standard software combined with grippers, sensors and controllers.

Robots will accelerate Industry 4.0. Moreover, as they will carry out tedious and dangerous jobs and tasks, it is expected that they can increase occupational safety and unleash our creativity. Growing markets seem to support a transition towards an increasingly digitised and robotised industry. The latest advances in swarm robots and soft robots allow this field to advance to new levels, thanks to the ability to communicate and coordinate to carry out complex tasks, working in teams, to interactions that are more adaptable to human behaviour. In Spain, the demand for robots grew strongly in 2021. Now, it is time to be prepared for the next updates.