2020 and Beyond: The Future of Robotics

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The robotics industry creates 3 million additional jobs between 2014 and 2020, led by consumer electronics and the electric vehicle industry.*

By 2020, robotics is a $100 billion industry, equivalent in size to the worldwide medical tourism industry in 2012.**

The rehabilitation robot market grows 40-fold between 2014 and 2020, fueled by advancements in rehab/therapy robots, active prostheses, exoskeletons, and wearable robotics.***

Between 2017 and 2020, the use of robotics generate 2 million additional job positions.****

2020 sees robotics gain momentum and become vital components in a number of applications. From swarms of “microbots” to self-assembling modular robots to strength-enhancing robotic exoskeletons, applications using robotics cut across industries and transform the way work is done. Robots paired with AI perform complex actions and are capable of learning from humans, driving the intelligent automation phenomenon.

Robotics technology in 2020:

  • Microbots allow emergency responders to explore environments that are too small or too dangerous for humans or larger robots; deploying them in “swarms” compensates for their relatively limited computational ability.
  • Exoskeletons allow users to augment their physical strength, helping those with physical disabilities to walk and climb, it also finds application in the military.
  • Body-machine interfaces help amputees to feed-forward controls that detect their will to move and also receive sensorial feedback that converts digital readings to feelings.
  • Modular robots bring forth LEGO® like robotic cubes that can arrange themselves in preset patterns to accomplish specific tasks.
  • Intelligent robots combine artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies to give robots human-like expressions and reactions.
  • Robotic strength increases as elastic nanotubes give robots muscles that are more compact and stronger than human muscles; allowing robots to outrun and out-jump humans.
  • Alternately powered robots use sources like solar, wind and wave energy to be powered indefinitely and open up applications in areas that are off-grid.
  • Robotic networks emerge and allow robots to access databases, share information and learn from one another’s experience.
  • Telepresence robots act as your stand-in at remote locations saving business travelers both time and money.

Robots already in use everywhere

Sales of industrial robots have risen to record levels and they have huge, untapped potential for domestic chores like mowing the lawn and vacuuming the carpet. Last year 3,000 underwater robots, 2,300 demolition robots and 1,600 surgical robots were in operation. A big increase is predicted for domestic robots for vacuum cleaning and lawn mowing, increasing from 12,500 in 2000 to almost 500,000 by the end of 2004. IBot’s Roomba floor cleaning robot is now available at under $200.00.

In the wake of recent anthrax scares, robots are increasingly used in postal sorting applications. Indeed, there is huge potential to mechanize the US postal service. Some 1,000 robots were installed last year to sort parcels and the US postal service has estimated that it has the potential to use up to 80,000 robots for sorting.

Look around at the “robots” around us today: automated gas pumps, bank ATMs, self-service checkout lanes – machines that are already replacing many service jobs.

Fast-forward another few decades. It doesn’t require a great leap of faith to envision how advances in image processing, microprocessor speed and human-simulation could lead to the automation of most boring, low-intelligence, low-paying jobs.

Military Robots

The military has always been at the cutting edge of technology, so it should come as no surprise that the most advanced robots in the world are being built with military applications in mind. While the thought of autonomous machines carrying heavy armaments might make people a bit nervous, they have the potential to dramatically reduce loss of life, allowing soldiers to safely scout locations or breach enemy locations. Many of them are even designed for support purposes, rather than eliminating threats.

The US military will have more robot soldiers on the battlefield than real ones by 2025, a top British intelligence expert has claimed. Combat robots will rapidly become an inherent part of US fighting forces within the next 10-15 years, defense experts say. Washington is apparently seeking to gain military edge over China, Russia and other rivals investing in research and development of robotic systems.

Companionship Robots

Sex doll manufacturers and independent roboticists are now designing and building humanlike robots that people can have sex with. It will be awhile before these robots really look or act like people. But the sex toy industry – worth billions of dollars globally – is primed for penetration by robots.

One of the early entries into this market is an animatronic head named Harmony that’s infused with artificial intelligence to give it a personality and the ability to “learn” about its human partner. Harmony will connect to the silicone body of a RealDoll, a life-sized sex doll that’s been around for 20 years.

*”Do Industrial Robots Really have a Positive Impact on Employment?,” The Robot Report, http://www.everything-robotic.com/2013/04/do-industrial-robots-really-have.html.
**”Fascinating projections: $100 billion robotics industry by 2020,” Robohub, http://robohub.org/fascinating-projections-100-billion-robotics-industry-by-2020/.
***”Rehab robots, smart prostheses and exoskeletons to reach $1.8 billion by 2020,” Robohub, http://robohub.org/rehab-robots-smart-prostheses-and-exoskeletons-to-reach-1-8-billion-by-2020/.
****”Exponentials, Tech Trends 2015, Deloitte University Press, http://dupress.com/articles/tech-trends-2015-exponential-technologies/.

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