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Robotics 2.0 Is Knocking: Here Is What IT Means

by Vikrant Yadav, - Country Manager, India Sales, GreyOrange Pte Ltd February-2018

Being a part of an industry that is expected to grow four fold in the next four years is like being on a swing only goes up. This is India’s e-commerce industry. According to a May 2016 ASSOCHAM-Forrester study, India's e-Commerce revenue will jump from US $30 billion in 2016 to US $120 billion in 2020, growing at 51% per annum, the highest in the world. Smartphone savvy millennials looking for a superior experience, competitive pricing and shopping on the move seem the surface reasons for this massive growth. However, there is something beneath the surface: warehousing costs for an e-commerce player can be as much as 25% of their total supply chain costs. Therefore, it is essential for e-commerce and logistics companies to automate their warehouses by deploying robotic systems to make their supply chains more effective and efficient. With selling propositions like same day delivery, four hour delivery, the level of automation at ware houses becomes the key differentiator for e-commerce players. Think of a warehouse the size of a football stadium with over 10,000 different types of products. Manual sorting of shipments based on delivery destinations can be cumbersome, inaccurate, and inefficient. Instead, a robotic sorting solution can read the barcodes on the packets, and sort them according to customized parameters such as first-in-first-out, delivery address, same day delivery etc. there by, speeding up the process almost 10 times, with higher accuracy.

Not just e-Commerce and logistics, robotics will disrupt several other industries in the next few years. For instance, only about 1,000 robot-assisted surgeries were performed around the world in 20001. The number had dramatically gone up to about 5,70,000 in 20142 and is well expected to have crossed the 2 million mark by 20153. High precision procedures during the surgery can be handled by robots (under human supervision) to increase the chances of success of a surgery. Similarly, when you are in Japan the next time, try checking into the Hennna hotel in a Netherlands themed amusement park in Nagasaki. The hotel is completely staffed by multilingual robots that can process language to understand the orders and requirements of its guests and take care of them.

These examples are merely the tip of the iceberg. Robotics can do much more to reignite the global industrial growth. Here's how:

Robotic Development Zones- In order for an industry to flourish, it requires a conducive ecosystem. Currently, all the robo developers work in silos, looking to source the required components, finding the right vendors, setting up manufacturing and assembly plants, and looking for the right talent to man the operations. As demand surges, we will see large industrial zones that will co-locate all these elements at one place, just like an industrial hub for automobile manufacturing. This will reduce the elementary barriers (infrastructure, talent, and choice of vendors etc.) And bring down the overall cost of development of robotics solutions.

Ease of Prototyping:- Prototyping is the process of developing a work-in-progress system that helps in understanding the requirements and functionality of the solution. For large and complex robotic systems, building iterative prototypes helps get a real sense of the system without actually having developed one. Therefore, there are higher chances of developing the final product that meets the requirements of the potential user. However, currently it is a very expensive and time consuming process. As the robotics industry grows in terms of volume, the economy of scale will play a part to bring down the cost of prototyping. Moreover, rapid advancements in 3D printing will further inspire the maker culture. Combined with the power of augmented reality, the future 3D printers will not only be able to bring to life the sketch of a robotic system or a synthetic drug but also make it function in a virtual environment, thus cutting down the cost and time of prototyping to a great extent.

From Algorithm to Intelligence- Most of us were first introduced to the concept of machine learning somewhere in the early 90s when Hollywood sci-fi's depicted robots whose coding had gone awry. With intelligence and processing power exceeding human capabilities, these humanoids tried to over throw cities. Even now, we are now here close to such threatening robots in real life. However, systems equipped with machine learning can capture the usage patterns of the past and optimize future performance. This helps in self-customization of the systems to get desired results. Therefore, rather than being deployed for ‘predictable’, 'routine' jobs, new age robots can take up more complex tasks. Consider a robotic pick-and-put system in a warehouse that reads the historic data patterns to understand that the sale of certain apparel brands goes up during the Diwali festive sales. Right before the festive season, it can place the racks that store these items in front and push back the racks of slow selling items to the other end of the warehouse. This can optimize the time for pick-put, cut down the processing time for shipments, and enable e-commerce companies to handle their ‘Big Billion Sales’ seamlessly.

Machines Speaking to Each Other - Currently, IOT initiatives are mostly about connecting devices such as mobile phones, home appliances, and automobile with each other using data enabled smart sensors. Going forward, the Internet of Robotic Things (IORT) will connect robotic devices of various configurations with each other, making them leverage each other's data seamlessly. The idea of a smartphone application that enables a doctor to control a robotic arm from miles away and perform complex heart surgery will no more be a leaf out of a Hollywood flick. As data processing becomes faster, reliable, and more affordable, connected robots will work autonomously and require human intervention only for troubleshooting.

The trends indicate that robotics is set to see major disruptions in the near future. By 2020, we may see robots taking on tasks that were never thought to have the potential to be automated. All I can say is that we are set for some exciting times.