The service robotics industry is growing at an incredible rate, with more businesses than ever investing in the potential of cutting-edge robotics technology. What is motivating the recent surge in growth, though? What advantages do service robots offer businesses? Are they worth the cost of investing in new technology? Service robotics may still be an up-and-coming industry, but the incredible benefits these robots have to offer could very well shape numerous other industries shortly.
Growth in the Service Robot Industry
As of 2015, only about 100,000 service robots were estimated to be in use worldwide, according to an in-depth study by Deloitte. That same study predicted significant growth over recent years, with exceptional factors like the COVID-19 pandemic stimulating the market further.
Within professional service robotics, logistics robots accounted for almost 50% of the market as of 2019. This indicates a particularly strong growth area in warehouse and manufacturing applications, where industrial and professional service robots are often used side by side. A great example of this is the combination of robots found in Amazon’s warehouses, with robots transporting things around the site while working alongside automated packing robots.
Service robots are gaining more traction than ever as labor issues arise worldwide. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 had a particular effect on the industry. Fewer employees could come into work at once if any at all, but demand didn’t slow down accordingly for many businesses. One needs to look no further than the persistent shortage of computer chips worldwide for a prime example of pandemic-stimulated demand increases. This further sparked growth in industrial and professional service robots, as many businesses sought a solution to labor shortages in the form of robotics.
Opportunities for reducing costs are key motivators for the increase in the adoption of service robots. Saving money is important for any business, but optimizing spending as much as possible has become even more important recently. As mentioned above, supply and demand disparities and supply chain delays throughout 2020 and 2021 have left many businesses strained to make ends meet. Saving money wherever possible could help alleviate that stress. Service robots offer a valuable way of reducing costs since they can achieve that goal without compromising efficiency or productivity.
In fact, productivity and efficiency are among service robots’ greatest advantages, even for robots in sectors like food service that is still in development. For example, a robot chef or waiter at a restaurant might not be as quick or agile as a human, but the robot doesn’t require breaks to eat and wouldn’t be rattled by rude or impatient customers. It would also be less prone to tripping, spills, and other accidents, making it much more productive than a human waiter in both the long and short term. Since the robot waiter encounters fewer accidents, less food and supplies would waste. Its greater productivity would allow more customers to be served, resulting in greater profits for the restaurant and lower payroll costs.
Of course, service robots do need breaks for charging and maintenance, just like any other robot or machine. While maintaining service robots can create new expenses for businesses, the robot’s performance capabilities more than makeup for it in the long run, especially if the robot is maintained well. Regular tune-ups will reduce the likelihood of any major, expensive repairs being needed and keep time spent on maintenance to a minimum.
Logistics service robots are another excellent example of how businesses can save money while increasing productivity. Adoption for logistics robots is the highest among all niches of the service robotics industry for a few reasons. Rates of online shopping have skyrocketed over recent years, leading to more shopping in warehouses and distribution centers rather than physical consumer storefronts. Consumers’ expectations for shipping and delivery times are higher than ever, as well, resulting from Amazon’s two-day Prime shipping.
Logistics robots can allow warehouses and fulfillment centers to meet this demand by operating around the clock with greater productivity and lower error rates. One popular service robot used in logistics is the mobile inventory robot, which uses RFID tags or QR codes to navigate rooms and autonomously pick items off shelves to transport them around the facility. Combined with autonomous packing robots, a warehouse could operate around the clock with a minimal number of overnight employees. This would allow for the most orders possible to be processed at the lowest possible cost. Fewer employees would be needed 24/7, fewer employees would be at risk of injury on the job, and fewer resources would be wasted by human error.
Improved Waste Reduction
One of the key ways service robots improve cost savings is by reducing waste production. This has the positive side effect of improving sustainability, as well, and can even improve customer satisfaction. When referring to waste reduction, it is important to remember that waste takes various forms: wasted time, resources, or opportunities.
For example, even the best cleaning and maintenance employee is prone to miss a spot now and then, wasting the opportunity to clean every inch of a room. They might simply get tired or not realize that they’ve left something un-sanitized. This may even result in wasted time and resources to go back and clean the space again. An autonomous UV-C cleaning robot, however, would not stop cleaning until its programming said so, using sensors and a systematic route to meticulously sanitize every inch of the space it was assigned, maximizing the amount of time available to it.
Service robots are also useful for quality control. Accidents risk damaging goods or orders, resulting in a poor customer experience and often a waste of resources and time to replace the defective or incorrect item. This is true in everything from food service to logistics. Service robots are capable of preventing accidents and resulting damage and identifying potentially damaged units. A logistics service robot, for example, might be tasked with picking and transporting items around a warehouse. Assuming it was being maintained properly, the robot would be at minimal risk of damaging any of its payloads while in transit. It could also be equipped with AI cameras to scan items for signs of damage upon pickup.
Safety has become a top-of-mind priority over recent years, largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses need to make the safety of both their employees and customers a significant part of their operations. Fewer employees can be in one space simultaneously, and the entire business space needs to be thoroughly cleaned at regular intervals. Service robots can help with this.
A great example of service robots in action for safety specifically could be found in Tokyo during the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. In preparation for the event, Tokyo city officials set up security robots in airports and around the Olympic facilities. A team of patrol robots roamed Narita International Airport, keeping travelers safe by scanning crowds for any suspicious activity. Meanwhile, REBORG-Z security and assistance robots were stationed around Tokyo, equipped with security cameras and sensors and an interactive display.
Similarly, UV sanitizing robots have become popular worldwide, especially in hospitals, where they are used to autonomously sanitize facilities. This helps prevent the spread of COVID-19. In warehouses and distribution centers, robots protect employees by performing potentially dangerous jobs requiring heavy lifting.
A cafe in Japan has an even more innovative approach to employee safety: using service robots as remote-controlled avatars for disabled or ill employees. The cafe, Dawn Ver, hires people who would otherwise not safely perform most jobs due to extreme medical circumstances or disabilities. Using specialized service robots, these employees can socialize and perform rewarding jobs as waiters in the cafe, remotely piloting their robot avatars around the restaurant.
The Rise of Service Robotics
Service robots have become increasingly popular in recent years as a result of their key benefits as well as their unique ability to meet the challenges businesses are facing. Whether they are sanitizing hospitals, monitoring sports stadiums, or anything in between, service robots are becoming a critical part of business operations at facilities worldwide.
As these robots are developed further, and their capabilities improve, the service robotics industry will only continue to grow. They need not replace the jobs of human employees, though. In fact, as discussed above, service robots are improving the working conditions of employees and even enabling people to perform new jobs altogether. Service robots are helping to create a better world, enabling businesses to offer top-notch service without compromises.
About the author
Emily Newton is a tech writer who enjoys writing about the latest innovations changing our world. Read more of her articles online at Revolutionized Magazine.