According to the International Federation of Robotics, an industry group, global sales of workplace robots are growing steadily after a recent slowdown due to the pandemic. In 2020, sales of “collaborative robots” increased by 6% globally, while sales of all industrial robots increased by 0.5% in the same period.
Last week, Amazon unveiled a new mobile robot called Proteus that has the basic ability to sense humans. While other robots in Amazon’s facilities work in different physical spaces than humans—for example, moving shelves full of goods into reach of human workers—Proteus can navigate areas where people work. It uses sensors to look for humans or other obstacles, and stops when it detects a possible collision with someone. Amazon’s announcement “shows that they’re investing in more and more collaborations,” said Brad Porter, formerly vice president of robotics at Amazon and now of Collaborative Robots, another startup working on working robots. Founder and CEO. closer to human.
Robust AI hopes to go further than Amazon by developing robots that can see what human workers are doing and help them. That should reduce the duplication of human labor and help workers take on new responsibilities, Brooks said. “We’re not trying to replace people here,” he said. “We want to make robots work for people, not the other way around. “
Clara Vu, co-founder and CTO of Veo Robotics, which develops software that allows large, powerful robots to work safely, says opportunities for human-robot teamwork are growing as technology needs to sense, map and interact with humans Workplace mobility is becoming more and more common. “We’re finding more robots working alongside people,” she said. “People are starting to see the capabilities of humans and robots as being very complementary.”
Powerful AI is targeting its technology at small warehouses that don’t currently use much automation. Matt Beane, an assistant professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who studies how organizations use artificial intelligence and robotics and has consulted for Robust AI, said many companies cannot fully revolve around a tradition of incompatibility with people. Automation redesigns their operations. Companies in this position may be more likely to invest in a company like Carter, but measuring the operational returns of such human-machine teamwork can be tricky, he said.
Research by University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Bilge Mutlu shows that collaboration between humans and robots can sometimes improve productivity. He has worked with Boeing on having robots perform procedures such as depositing coatings or grinding to make aircraft parts, while humans oversee the work and intervene only when necessary. But collaboration doesn’t always improve things, and it’s not always clear how best to implement it, Mutlu said. “In academia, we create these impressive demonstrations and stuff, but the science doesn’t quite exist,” he said.
Brooks’ latest robot has become a great demo, but it will have to help more companies get into automation to be successful.