As technological advancements power a new age of artificial intelligence (A.I.), automation, smart living, and the like, the range of roles that robots can play in the workplace has broadened beyond mere novelty applications.
Just as previous innovations throughout history — such as the wheel, engine, computer, and smartphone — have made society more productive, robotics will open the door to a new era of improving living and working standards. Rather than replacing human jobs, robots have the ability to enhance our productivity, helping people to complete necessary tasks and augmenting the output in myriad industries that are facing labor shortages and other challenges due to the rapidly changing economy.
Robot co-workers have already begun operating in a variety of industries such as hospitality, health care, and warehouse logistics, among many others, to perform both simple and complex tasks that have enhanced our society and have improved countless lives. Here are three ways they will improve our lives.
Until recent advancements in A.I. and robotic design, robots were largely kept behind the scenes, operating in sectioned-off areas to avoid encounters with humans. Now, a growing amount of friendly, unintimidating robots are greeting and assisting guests in hotels, restaurants, and storefronts to free up human staff members for customized guest services. Add that to the fact that hospitality businesses are finding it increasingly difficult to attract and retain staff with the right interpersonal and technical skills due to better paying positions elsewhere in the economy, and it’s even more important to assist employees who have those crucial skills. In fact, 80 percent of respondents to a recent Travelzoo study said they expect robots to feature in hospitality by 2020.
However, these new robot staff members will never be able to take over 100 percent of hotel operations duties and would complement human staff rather than replace them, as robots may not be able to solve all of guests’ problems or queries. In fact, over 80 percent of respondents to the Travelzoo study would prefer to ask a human staff member about the local area of the hotel they are staying in, perhaps for dining or sightseeing recommendations.
2. Health care
While the expertise and experience of doctors and health care providers is irreplaceable, their skills can be enhanced and services can be augmented to make their jobs easier with an automated assistant or a helping hand during surgery. Doctors have already been working in tandem with advanced surgical robots to achieve new levels of precision during operations. Human surgeons can control robotic arms from a console where they make slight movements and gestures that the robot mimics. Today’s surgical robots truly extend surgeons’ capabilities and can filter out hand tremors or perform advanced maneuvers that a human hand cannot consistently achieve with perfection. This technology will also enable medical care and surgery for patients in remote areas of the world as skilled surgeons have controlled robotic arms from a console to operate on a patient miles away.
On a more basic level, robots can help “make rounds” within a hospital or medical facility to free up nurses and doctors for additional patient care when staff is scarce. Current robots in this market are using sensors or cameras to navigate their surroundings and deliver medications, supplies, and more. These robots are mapped to learn pathways throughout hospitals to keep processes efficient. As robotic recognition capabilities have improved in recent years, some robots are even able confirm if they’ve selected the correct medication to deliver to a patient, and correct themselves if not. These robots have helped medical personnel tend to patients for longer periods of time, as the administrative tasks are already being handled.
3. Warehouses and fulfillment
Robots, by nature, are excellent at performing the same task over and over again with precision. One industry that struggles to find permanent staff members who enjoy this kind of repetition is warehousing.
Warehouse picking is not only tedious, but depending on the kinds of items, it can be dangerous and detrimental to human workers’ health. For example, the U.S. Department of Labor estimated that general industry accidents lead to 95 million lost work days per year. Warehouse robots can pick items from a shelf and prepare them for packing all day long, without breaks or requests for sick and vacation days.
This is good news for human workers, too, as having robots in more repetitive roles allows humans to perform more fulfilling roles within the warehouse — whether they serve as robot managers, engineers, or the like. As robots become more prevalent in the warehouse and productivity continues to rise, smaller businesses will be able to keep pace with larger competition and level the playing field in the marketplace.
As A.I. and robotic technology innovation and adoption accelerate, the use cases for functional robots will continue to expand and diversify. Robots will move out from behind the scenes and collaborate with human workers in new ways to improve existing processes and add a higher level of precision to certain tasks.
Roboticists and other technology experts look at the existing capabilities of robots and see unbounded potential in fields that are as crucial to our lives as medicine, where robots could eventually finish off surgeries autonomously, freeing up expert surgeons to complete more advanced surgeries or solve patient issues. Logistical processes across industries could be automated and enable faster repairs, emergency deliveries, and accelerated research and development.
We’re on the doorstep of a new Industrial Revolution, and just as the transition to machinery from hand production methods revolutionized manufacturing and daily life during the first one, the introduction of robots will enable our society to be more efficient and will affect everyday activities both inside and outside of the office.
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