What is Smart Robotics?
A smart robot is no longer science fiction. While traditionally a robot has been defined as any machine that can be programmed to perform a range of difficult or complex assignments/functions, smart robotics as a technology comprises robots that can also collaborate with human beings, learn from its environment/experience and refine or modify its actions accordingly. The developments in sensor technology and growing interest and investment in smart robotics enabled by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) are forcing organizations to increasingly look at intelligent machines / smart robots to personalize user experience, ramp up efficiency and improve productivity. According to Gartner’s IT glossary, “smart machine technologies learn on their own and can produce unanticipated results. They must adapt their behavior based on experience (learning), not be totally dependent on instructions from people (learn on their own), and be able to come up with unanticipated results”.
Growing application across industries
Smart robotics is no longer confined to conventional sectors like automation and manufacturing. As a technology, smart robotic is undergoing a massive change and is being deployed for a diverse range of applications across multiple industries like healthcare, retail, agriculture, logistics, and banking, among others. And engineers and researchers are taking advantage of these developments to create intelligent robots of the future. Researchers from MIT, for example, have developed a “robo-picker” which ‘grasps’ and ‘packs’. According to a February 2018 release from the MIT news office, “engineers from MIT and Princeton University have developed a robotic system that may one day lend a hand with this household chore, as well as assist in other picking and sorting tasks, from organizing products in a warehouse to clearing debris from a disaster zone.” They have developed an “object-agnostic grasping algorithm that enables the robot to assess a bin of random objects and determine the best way to grip or suction onto an item amid the clutter, without having to know anything about the object before picking it up,” says the release. Again, a UC Berkeley news release in May 2018 reported that a company incubated with UC Berkeley had created a robot which can ‘efficiently’ deliver food to students, faculty and other staff members on campus.
Future of Smart Robotics
Even as smart robotics is expected to play a more significant role spanning across various sectors, the lines between artificial intelligence, robotics, machine learning, and deep learning continue to diminish. Greater integration of these technologies is expected to increase operational efficiency. The International Data Corporation (IDC) identifies robotics as one of “six innovation accelerators”, which are changing the way work is done and driving “digital transformation, creating digitized organizations and opening new revenue streams”. According to IDC FutureScape robotics predictions, by 2023, while 40% of G2000 manufacturers will “digitally connect at least 30% of their robots to a cloud platform to improve operational efficiency and agility”, 25% of leading retail stores will explore or deploy in-store robots to “relieve human workers from repetitive tasks, thus increasing worker productivity by 40%”. “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. In line with collaborative robots becoming safer, smarter, and simpler to deploy, their adoption rate in the manufacturing and third-party logistics industries will have doubled by 2022. Organizations that integrate their robots into their business systems — such as their ERP (enterprise resource planning), MES (manufacturing execution system), WMS (warehouse management system), OMS (order management system), and so forth — will gain up to an extra 40% return on their robotics investments by 2021,” said IDC’s worldwide robotics 2019 predictions