Automation Trends Impacting Robotics

March 15, 2024
The International Federation of Robotics offers its take on the top automation trends it sees driving interest in robotics in 2024.

The stock of operational robots worldwide has reached a new record of nearly 4 million units, according to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR). The organization contends this has occurred due to industry demands driven by five automation trends.

“These five mutually reinforcing automation trends show that robotics is a multidisciplinary field where technologies are converging to create intelligent solutions for a wide range of tasks,” says Marina Bill, president of the IFR. “These advances continue to shape the merging industrial and service robotics sectors and the future of work.”

Following are the tech trends cited by the IFR along with their reasons for citing them:

Artificial Intelligence (AI). The trend of using AI in robotics and automation keeps growing. The emergence of generative AI opens-up new solutions. Robot manufacturers are developing generative AI-driven interfaces which allow users to program robots more intuitively by using natural language instead of code. Workers will no longer need specialized programming skills to select and adjust the robot´s actions. Another example is predictive AI to analyze robot performance data and identify the future state of equipment. Predictive maintenance can save manufacturers machine downtime costs. In the automotive parts industry, for example, each hour of unplanned downtime is estimated to cost US$1.3 million, according to the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation. Machine learning algorithms can also analyze data from multiple robots performing the same process for optimization. In general, the more data a machine learning algorithm is given, the better it performs. 

Cobots expanding to new applications. Rapid advances in sensors, vision technologies and smart grippers allow robots to respond in real time to changes in their environment and thus work safely alongside human workers. A recent market development is the increase of cobot welding applications, driven by a shortage of skilled welders. This demand shows that automation is not causing a labor shortage but rather offers a means to solve it. Collaborative robots will therefore complement—not replace—investments in traditional industrial robots that operate at much faster speeds and will therefore remain important for improving productivity in response to tight product margins.

Mobile Manipulators. Mobile manipulators are automating material handling tasks in industries such as automotive, logistics and aerospace. They combine the mobility of robotic platforms with the dexterity of manipulator arms. This enables them to navigate complex environments and manipulate objects. Equipped with sensors and cameras, these robots perform inspections and carry out maintenance tasks on machinery and equipment.

Digital Twins. Digital twin technology is increasingly used as a tool to optimize the performance of a physical system by creating a virtual replica of it that can be tested to determine optimal improvements. When applied to robots, digital twins can use their real-world operational data to run simulations and predict likely outcomes. Because the twin exists purely as a computer model, it can be stress-tested and modified with no safety implications while saving costs. All experimentation can be checked before the physical world itself is touched.

Humanoid Robots. Robotics is witnessing significant advancements in humanoids, which are designed to perform a wide range of tasks in various environments. The human-like design with two arms and two legs allows the robot to be used flexibly in work environments that were created for humans. These humanoids can therefore be easily integrated into existing warehouse processes and infrastructure. The Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) recently published detailed goals for the country’s ambitions to mass-produce humanoids by 2025. The MIIT predicts humanoids are likely to become another disruptive technology, similar to computers or smartphones, that could transform the way we produce goods and the way humans live. 

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