fbpx
Prof Dr Tadhg O’Donovan, Head of the School of Engineering and Physical Sciences, Heriot-Watt University Dubai
News & Events

Robots will become as mainstream as smartphones, Wi-Fi

Over the last few years, collaborative robots, which in industrial contexts are built to safely work together with people in factory environments without the need for enclosed spaces, have begun to surface. They are potentially more lightweight, algorithmically capable, and cost-effective robotic solutions as compared to classic industrial robots that are huge, bulky automated machines that usually operate inside a cage.

The workplace of the future is likely to be an environment where humans and industrial robots will be working together to increase speed, efficiency and agility.

Consumer robots have been a part of popular culture for decades as we have been envisioning robots living alongside us at our homes to help us with household chores and to entertain and educate us. The shift from a market largely dominated by vacuum cleaner robots to one of personal assistants or family companions represents the huge potential of consumer robotics in the future.

Humanoids, that is robots with a human-like appearance made to mimic human motion and interaction are now being used for research and space exploration, personal assistance and caregiving, education and entertainment, search and rescue, manufacturing and maintenance, and healthcare.

By automating tasks in a way that leads to cost-savings and efficiency, humanoid robots can be considered as a specific kind of professional service robots.

As we forge ahead, the lines between various types of robots may become blurred. Even the meaning of what we regard as a robot is in a constant flux, as scientists and engineers continue to add more advanced features and capabilities.

The various categories of robot serve different purposes in society now and in the future. While the humanoid robot is not necessarily the most efficient for mundane or repetitive task, it plays an important role for social acceptance and integration.

Industrial robots are designed to efficiently and accurately perform repetitive tasks such as precision welding in an automotive production line or even dangerous tasks in environments that would not be safe for humans, including inspections on construction sites, defusing of bombs, and others.

Prof Dr Tadhg O’Donovan, Head of the School of Engineering and Physical Sciences, Heriot-Watt University Dubai
Prof Dr Tadhg O’Donovan, Head of the School of Engineering and Physical Sciences, Heriot-Watt University Dubai.

Industrial robots are currently making breakthroughs in healthcare, agriculture, defence, mining and automotive industries, besides manufacturing.

Humanoid robots can complete any task a human being can — provided they have a properly defined path. In the future, humanoids can be used for risky, distant space exploration missions in the future and closer to home, become daily companions to us in our daily lives.

While the cost of robot hardware has come down over the years, the cost of integrating robotic automation to a manufacturing line is still high. For SMEs with production processes that run at a smaller scale, a robot integrator is required to redesign and repurpose robot work cells to meet the conditions needed for performing new tasks. This can act as a barrier to the adoption of industrial robots.

While AI and machine learning are rapidly evolving, robots can learn from their experiences and continually improve their performance on future iterations or tasks. But robots fall far short of thinking for themselves and this is limiting, especially in terms of adding new capabilities or do anything other than the task for which they are programmed.

Although humanoids are one of the smallest groups of service robots currently, they have the great potential to become the industrial tool of the future. Companies such as Softbank Robotics have already created human-like robots to be used as medical assistants and teaching aids.

While robots are mainly found in automotive manufacturing at present, it is predicted that robots will also enter the electronics manufacturing sector to help with building complex things such as smartphones or microchips as industrial robots become smaller and more precise.

As the use cases for consumer robots continue to evolve, particularly for personal use, these will become more mainstream and an indispensable part of our lives just like smartphones and WiFi.


Key takeaways

  • Workplace of the future is likely to be where humans and industrial robots will be working together.
  • The shift from vacuum cleaner robots to family companions represents the huge potential of consumer robotics.
  • By automating tasks humanoid robots can be considered as a specific kind of professional service robots.
  • As we forge ahead, the lines between various types of robots may become blurred.
  • The meaning of what we regard as a robot is in a constant flux.
  • The humanoid robot is not necessarily most efficient but plays an important role for social acceptance.
  • Humanoid robots can complete any task a human being can, provided they have a properly defined path.
  • The cost of integrating robotic automation into a manufacturing line is still high.
  • Robots can learn from experiences and continually improve their performance on future iterations or tasks.
  • Robots fall far short of thinking for themselves and this is limiting.

Although humanoids are one of the smallest groups of service robots currently, they have the potential to become the industrial tool of the future.