Over the last few decades, a number of blockbuster hits have illustrated what life would be like if humans and robots existed side by side. While the technology featured in films like “I-Robot”, “Her” and even the star wars series is nothing more than sci-fi fantasy, robots have already had a major impact on how businesses operate.
Take for instance the application of the technology across the automotive industry; robots are now utilized by manufacturers to complete a range of tasks including everything from welding parts to assembling new vehicles. Given that in the last year alone businesses ordered an additional 6,491 new robots, the technology will play an increasingly crucial role in future automotive supply chains.
While automotive businesses account for 58% of the total demand for new robots, the technology has also been successfully applied across a number of other industries. In the life sciences sector for example, robots are used extensively to complete tasks that either require a high level of consistency or are simply too dangerous for humans to undertake. Considering that specially designed robots are capable of testing up to 3 million specimens in a week whereas it would take a human at least 12 years to process the same amount, robots are already outdoing humans in terms of productivity:
While robotic technology is already used widely by businesses, given the scale of recent investments in artificial intelligence and robotic technologies, there could be some major developments on the horizon.
In the last 12 months alone, Google has spent over $154 million acquiring 8 different robotics businesses including Titan Aerospace and Boston Dynamics, the manufacturer responsible for developing the world’s fastest running robot. In addition to this, the internet giant has also reportedly invested a further $400 million into the British artificial intelligence specialist, DeepMind. While it is not yet clear why Google has invested so much into these areas, the company is undoubtedly trying to push the boundaries of robotics and artificial intelligence.
Although it could be some time before our lives start to resemble something from “I-Robot”, Google’s Director of Engineering, Ray Kurzweil, believes that in just two decades, robotic machines will have the same level of emotional intelligence and common sense as humans. Although these claims seem difficult to comprehend, considering that last month a computer program successfully used artificial intelligence to pass the Turning test, convincing a significant proportion of the judging panel that they were talking to a real person and not a machine, the technology is undeniably heading in the right direction.
For businesses, the development of such advanced robots would allow them to achieve whole new levels of efficiency. Whereas businesses would have to employ several humans in order to achieve a 24 hour operation, given that robots do not suffer from the effects of fatigue or boredom, they would be able to work around the clock. Put in the context of the supply chain, specialist logistics robots could be utilized across the supply chain supporting businesses in everything from order processing right through to delivering finished products to customers’ doors. Furthermore, if Ray Kurzwei’s predictions on artificial intelligence become a reality, robots would also be capable of making decisions autonomously, which in turn would allow businesses to completely automate entire parts of the supply chain.
However, while the development of such advanced technology could create huge advances in efficiency, the emergence of robots with the ability to feel human emotion could present businesses with a range of ethical dilemmas. For example, considering that future robots may someday have the same mental capacity as humans, should robots deserve the same rights as humans? Furthermore, as artificial intelligence evolves and robots become increasingly more independent, who should be held accountable when things go wrong?
Although this technology still has some considerable barriers to overcome, given the contribution robots have already made to businesses, the development of intelligent robots could offer some exciting opportunities in the near future.
Considering this, what role do robots play in your supply chain today and how do you envisage they will impact your operations in the future?