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Bench Talk for Design Engineers

Bench Talk

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Bench Talk for Design Engineers | The Official Blog of Mouser Electronics


Trending in 2022 and Beyond, Robots and Cobots Aplenty Mouser Staff

(Source: putilov_denis – stock.adobe.com)

We live in decidedly dystopian times, so is it any wonder we are looking to technology to provide a more hopeful future? Nowhere in tech is this sentiment clearer than in the world of robotics and AI.

Sure, some would argue that the “robots will take over your jobs” narrative is not exactly a reassuring one, but after over two years of living through a global pandemic, facing supply chain breakdowns, worker shortages, and logistical challenges, the thought of robots taking over some of the higher-risk jobs to humans isn’t quite as scary anymore.

Indeed, the pandemic has arguably catalyzed the biggest move toward robot automation we’ve ever seen. Also, instead of stealing our jobs, robots are actually stepping in to make jobs safer and expand possibilities in the workplace.

One of the bigger trends in robotics is the—decidedly unsexy—Robotic Process Automation (RPA). RPA is being picked up by more and more enterprise situations and it’s basically where robots (or sometimes even just software based “bots”) engage in repetitive tasks and operations like appointment scheduling, inventory checks, billing, and lots of other things that would likely bore a human employee to death.

Then there are the blue-collar robots—the smart factory robots. These too are having a popularity surge. They’re strong, they’re efficient, they’re quick, they’re almost unfailingly accurate, and they don’t need to take lunch breaks or sick days, nor will they infect everyone on the factory floor with Covid!

“The rise of autonomous mobile robots within warehouse and distribution center environments has helped companies meet rising eCommerce demands and counteract labor shortages,” said Florian Pestoni, CEO and Co-Founder of InOrbit, a leading robot operations platform for autonomy orchestration.

Pestoni says he expects to see companies deploy more robots to help with warehouse and supply chain challenges, but that this wouldn’t simply be a case of adding more of the same robot to the fleet, or seeing a second or third Autonomous Maneuverable Robots (AMR) vendor enter the warehouse to perform the same task.

“Multi-robotic systems are coming that have robots performing other tasks within a warehouse—including floor cleaning, disinfection robots, and inventory management robots and drones” he explained, adding that to prepare for this next wave “companies need to be sure they can integrate these systems without having to face a mess of incompatible software or management siloes where robots can’t speak with each other.”

It's not just factories that are recruiting more help from robots either. Robots are becoming fashionable in the retail industry too, where the latest fashion is “Cobots”—multi-purpose collaborative robots that can work safely with humans and which are jam-packed with sensitive sensors to allow them to "feel."

This isn’t as creepy as it sounds, it simply means that if a robot gets interrupted in the task it’s doing from an external source (say a small child bumping into it), the robot would put itself straight into safety mode. In the past, old-school robots would simply continue working away, potentially injuring people who crossed their path, but no longer with cobots. They’re also relatively cheap compared to their industrial cousins, and they are designed to be able to work alongside humans, doing the heavy-lifting style tasks and taking the health and safety risks humans really shouldn’t be undertaking anyway.

Companies working on cobots say they are intentionally making them easy to program and use, so you don’t need years or even months of robotics experience to get them doing what you want them to do. Some even allow you to “drag and drop” their limbs through various motions that they can then repeat by themselves later.

“With more automation and robots entering our lives, opportunities for the future workforce include positions that we haven’t yet even thought about,” said Pestoni, adding that terms like “Roboteer” will enter the lexicon as people use cloud-based software to orchestrate physical robots (known as Software-defined X).

“Robots have contributed greatly to our ventures, empowering most gadgets, machines, transportation, and handling food sources to be made proficiently and economically,” said Brent Hale, Chief Content strategist at Tech Guided. “There is no denying that the 21st century has brought wonderful advancements and forward leaps. From the ascent and expansion of cell phones to the extraordinary advancement of AI, advanced mechanics, and independent innovation, the most recent couple of years have presented astounding new items and developments that are making our lives more straightforward and better too.”

Robots aren’t just grunts though, they’re getting smarter too. Hand in hand with the AI revolution comes the rise of the AI Robot, which uses machine learning to improve while on the job. The more data collected, the smarter and more efficient these robots can become and the more useful they will be to a plethora of industries. They also happen to be good with children.

AI robots have been making the news recently for being the latest development in helping kids with autism develop better social skills, even helping with things like eye-contact. Experts say that the fact the robots are humanoid yet nonjudgmental is especially useful in getting kids to interact with them.

Other AI robots have been helpful for children with learning disabilities, kids who are deaf and those struggling with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Turns out that robots are very patient and adaptable to whatever the needs of the child are.

It’s not just kids that find comfort and help from robots, the elderly are discovering them to be proactive and empathetic care companions too.

Robots like the ElliQ, designed specifically for the 65+ age group, are a sort of live-in wellness coach and companion, giving their human charges prompts for when to take their pills, checking on their health, guiding them through physical and mental exercises, setting wellness goals and tracking them, offering them access to health content from the Mayo Clinic, access to transportation support with Uber Health, video calling, dictation texting, music, and much more. Initial studies show that elderly users of the ElliQ accepted the robot’s suggestions 60 percent of the time and 94 percent of those completed the suggested activity. Through AI and machine learning (ML), the robot learns about its human’s individual needs and provides a variety of personalized suggestions and features.

Other Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) entering the home are designed to help less able-bodied people around the house. Some of them can lift, carry, and retrieve payloads of around 11kgs while navigating around autonomously and adjusting their height up and down, sometimes by several feet. They can carry trays and get things from high shelves, all while reading an audiobook aloud or helping someone with their crossword puzzle.

“Advanced mechanics has emerged from fictitious motion pictures to true situations, performing mind-boggling undertakings, and changing the world we live in,” said Hale.

Mind-boggling indeed, but robots could soon step in at your local coffee shop as Baristas too. At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas (CES), attendees got to watch a robot called ADAM with its two multi-jointed arms making coffee from scratch—adding beans to the grinder, boiling water, pouring milk, swirling the heated milk, and even shaking chocolate powder on top—even bringing it over to patrons when it was ready. Robots like ADAM could also theoretically be bartenders, fast food line workers, and even aspire to greater roles in the kitchen.

A Korean startup also exhibiting at CES this year showcased a robot chef that it claimed could learn new recipes in just 48 hours. The AI-driven robo-chef is designed to recreate the texture and taste of dishes created by human master chefs with the goal to democratize cooking.

“Walking down the street, at the store, or at work, people are more likely than ever to see a robot in action,” said Pestoni, adding that with the rise of “Roboteers”—the people who control robots via cloud-based software—the location of workers won’t even matter, as they can be anywhere on the planet, and simply connect to their robots via advanced networks.

“This will truly democratize access to labor and create a world where everyone will be able to claim that they can be the boss of a robot,” he explained.

And, let’s be honest, who doesn’t want to be the boss of a robot?



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