Imagine this: a country plagued by widespread unemployment. Thousands of workers fearing that they’ll be displaced from their jobs. Mass protests. Hysteria. What’s causing this? A technology so innovative and so efficient that it will replace an entire labor force in less than a year.
I’m talking, of course, about knitting weavers.
In 1811, mass protests erupted in England at the weaving factories. Fearing a machine takeover, workers protested by smashing the machines in mass.
From a 21st century perspective, the benefits of the industrial revolution are clear. Why then, when we’re faced with innovations in robotics or artificial intelligence, do we continue to be afraid? It seems that every new advancement in technology makes humans fear they’ll be replaced. Or perhaps, it’s a fear that we’ll create something we can’t control. Will robots replace us? Or will they continue to push the human race forward? Likely, yes, to both.
Where can you find these revolutionary robots?
1. Robots are on assembly lines, in the car manufacturing industry
General Motors introduced us to the first industrial robot in 1961. “Unimate” performed tasks on an assembly line. It took over the most dangerous tasks from human workers. Over 5 decades later, we still find most robots in the automobile manufacturing industry.
We used to keep those robots in cages to protect humans. Now we’re entering an age where humans and robots are working side-by-side. The robots handle awkward or difficult tasks with ease.
We call them “co-bots”. They’re collaborative robots designed with round edges and “soft skin”. Using artificial intelligence, these robots sense movement and touch. They disengage or change course to maintain a safe distance from human co-workers. They can, in short, be “trained”.
These robot human partnerships are extremely successful. MIT researchers studied human-robot collaborations on assembly lines at the BMW factory. They found that human-robot teams performed better than all-human or all-robot teams.
Researchers expect the collaborative robotics sector will become a $1 billion market by 2020 (up from $95 million two years ago). Some researchers project that it could be the leading subsector in the robotics industry. This is thanks, in part, to cheap manufacturing costs (hey, cloud technology!) and its ability to be mass adopted by many industries.
2. Robots are under the sea and at the crime scene, with 3D Imaging and Realization
Water covers over 70% of the Earth’s surface. With our current underwater surveys, scientists can only see objects larger than 5 km in diameter for 90% of the ocean floor. Companies like Oceaneering International are working to change that. Their unmanned seacrafts explore the ocean floor. They map and relay the data to the cloud, where it’s materialized for scientists to use. They also assist in recovery projects to find the unfindable – airplane black boxes, wreckage, and other important debris.
When it comes to crime scene investigation, Faro Technologies leads the way. Law enforcement agents use their 3D imaging robots to document and reconstruct crime scenes.
The FBI, DoJ, and Department of Homeland Security all use Faro software. Before these robots, it took investigators days or even weeks to document the scene. Even after they finished, there was no way to know if they had captured everything of importance. Thanks to Faro robots, that task takes fifteen minutes.
3. Robots go where no man has gone before, with the Aerospace + Defense industry
Defense robots extend the eyes, ears, hands, and feet of our brave military service members.
Aerovironment’s “Raven” is the most widely used unmanned aircraft system in the world. It flies over enemy territory and relays important information back to command. A lightweight in its field, US military members use this 4.2 lb drone in Iraq and Afghanistan.
iRobot designed the 510 PackBot to perform reconnaissance and surveillance missions. This robot is able to detect biological and chemical warfare and safely defuse explosive devices.
Northrop Grumman’s Triton Drone can do it all. It flies for 24 hours straight, 10 miles above the Earth, covers 2.7 million square miles a day, and sends intelligence back to HQ. Northrop Grumman just renewed its contracts with the Navy and Air Force, for a combined $450 million.
When planning a $2.5 billion venture to the surface of Mars, employing 7,000 people over the course of 8 years, who do you trust to manufacture the pieces that will help the Mars Rover actually land and move? None other than Harmonic Drive, maker of precision parts, like motor and gears. “Precision” doesn’t seem to describe it – there is zero room for error in this industry.
4. Robots enter the human brain, with the medical technology industry
Accuray is revolutionizing the medical technology space. They created the CyberKnife, a robotic non-invasive tumor treatment. Intuitive Surgical is another innovative player in this space. Their robotics instruments provide surgeons with “wristed” surgical tools (the ability to turn and rotate after entering the body) as well as hi-definition 3D cameras.
These innovations have made common surgeries far less invasive, reducing recovery time for patients.
5. Robots serve in our homes, with the consumer cyclicals industry
You may have heard of “Roomba”, the friendly vacuuming robot. But have you met her cousins, Braava, Mirra, and Looj? They’re made by iRobot, maker of bomb defusing robots and vacuums alike.
Renishaw is the world leader in additive manufacturing (also known as metal 3D printing). They partnered with Empire Cycles to make a lightweight mountain bike. They shaved off 44% of the bike’s weight, decreasing material waste and improving performance.
Consumer manufacturing companies use robots from Cognex, maker of “machine vision” robotics. Their robots scan, error-check, pack, and unpack materials in factories.
6. Robots connect to the cloud, with the cloud computing and artificial intelligence industry
Cloud Computing is an “enabler” industry, so growth in cloud computing and robotics go hand in hand. Robots equipped with cloud-based software can access data, and communicate with humans and other robots, machines, and sensors through the cloud.
ABB’s Smart Sensor robots do just that. They are small, pocket-sized robots that attach to industrial motors. The robot transmits data to the cloud, and humans can access information like performance and servicing needs.
The next industrial revolution is well underway. It’s the way of the future – robots and humans working together to achieve what humans could not achieve alone. Want to invest in this trend? Interested in these companies? You can invest in all the robotics companies you’ve read about here, as well as more than 60 other companies spread across many global industries.
It’s all possible with ROBO, the exchange-traded fund managed by Robo Global. The fund is skewed toward industrials and technology, with these industries representing 85% of the investment. Energy, healthcare, and consumer cyclicals make up the rest. ROBO is geographically distributed around the world, with 43.55% invested in American companies, 35.01% in Greater Asia, and 21.44% in Europe. The fund has a 0.95% expense ratio.
Robotics is an exciting and innovative industry and there’s no telling where it will go next. But does that mean that we should fear a robot takeover? Let’s ask an expert. Robotics researcher, Richard Morris of MIT, says that humans should not fear robots. He adds, “Ideas come from people, and a robot is never going to replace that.” In an ironic twist, the weakest link in the potential of the robotics industry might just be the humans that create them.
Want to learn about how robots improve our everyday lives? Check out 6 Robots That Sum Up 2016.
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