The concept of robotics isn’t a new one. Leonardo da Vinci designed a clockwork robotic knight in the 15th century. It’s only in recent decades that technology has caught up to da Vinci’s vision, allowing us to utilize robots in a variety of industries. Robots have landed on Mars and have become so close to our hearts that we even collectively mourn their decommissioning, as we did when the Opportunity rover was declared dead earlier this month.
Robotics as a whole is turning out to be a game-changer for a lot of industries. Let’s take a closer look at the sectors being turned on their ears — literally, in some cases — by robotics.
Heavy machinery is an integral part of the construction industry. But until recently, it hasn’t been able to complete its tasks without the assistance of a human operator. Robotics is working to change that with the introduction of new concepts — like a bricklaying robot that can place bricks and mortar five times faster than a human bricklayer. Another robotic 3D printer is capable of building an entire concrete house in 24 hours, one layer at a time.
These robots have been around for a while, but construction companies are only just starting to realize the potential changes and improvements that robotics could bring to the construction industry.
Logistics is a broad sector and stretches across nearly every industry. Robots are starting to take their place in this field as well.
Amazon employs tens of thousands of fulfillment robots in its warehouses. Cold chain warehouses have begun utilizing robotic arms in their climate-controlled warehouses. This makes it easier to keep the temperatures down, since warehouse workers don’t have to open the doors to get in and out. Some last-mile delivery companies are even working towards using drones for rural or same-day deliveries.
While we haven’t reached the age of same-day drone delivery, nearly every last-mile delivery company is working toward that end goal. You might be able to have your Amazon order delivered by drone sometime in the next decade.
Just like with electronics, tolerances in manufacturing have become more demanding. That means our tools need to become more complex — and many traditional manufacturers can’t keep up with the change.
Robotics allows for the creation of devices as small as 0.004″ in diameter with a 0.0025″ radius for micromachining — something that would be difficult or impossible for human workers to achieve. In addition to this, robots are capable of providing the same level of quality for each workpiece. They never get tired, take breaks or go home for the evening.
Surgery has changed dramatically since the introduction of robotics in the health care industry. Operations don’t necessarily mean large incisions and human doctors anymore. The Da Vinci surgery system utilizes robotic arms, controlled by a human surgeon, that can perform complex operations through much smaller incisions. This reduces recovery time and improves patient outcomes. Robotic surgery with tools like the Da Vinci system is just the tip of the robotics iceberg in health care.
As technology continues to improve, autonomous surgery robots could be on the agenda. One possibility involves microscopic nanobots that can be injected into a patient via an IV. These nanobots could be programmed to seek out the organ that needs treatment and carry it out without any direction from a surgeon.
Agriculture is a very human-centric industry — fields are worked, foods are processed and packaged, and animals are tended by human workers. Robotics is hoping to make this industry a little more efficient and streamlined by removing the human worker from the equation. Robots can be used in agriculture for everything from seeding and weeding to harvesting, sorting and packaging. The trick with robots in agriculture is making sure they’re correctly calibrated, so their arms don’t damage the produce or livestock before they reach the shelves.
The military has been using robotics for a while in the form of unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs. These drones can fly across the world while their operator sits in his or her office in the States. For the most part, they’re just used for reconnaissance and delivering explosives.
Today, the United States Army is looking to implement robotic soldiers. The MTRS — Man-Transportable Robotic System — weighs only 165 pounds and can detect explosives as well as chemical, biological and nuclear threats. These portable sensor robots help keep our soldiers safe while they’re overseas in combat situations.
Robots are no longer the sole purview of science fiction stories. While we might not have our own personal “Rosie” (of “The Jetsons” fame) doing the laundry or a “B-9” (from “Lost in Space”) alerting us to impending “Danger!”, nearly every industry in the world now faces disruption from robotics at some level. As technology continues to advance, we’ll continue to see more of these changes across every sector.