Will robots one day take over the planet and destroy humanity? We’ve all heard this common misconception regarding the future of robots, perhaps fueled by Hollywood “Sci-Fi” dramatization and the widespread fascination with robotics since Engelberger and Devol invented the first industrial robot, Unimate. Robots have come a long way since General Motors paved the way in adoption of industrial robots, bringing Unimate to their factory floor. Since then, industrial robots have continued to revolutionize industries, becoming more user-accessible, affordable, and intelligent.
Today, industrial robots and robotic systems are vital to factory automation, with more than 1.1 million industrial robots operating in factories globally, according to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR).The IFR has identified key benefits of using industrial robots:
- Improving Quality of Work for Employees
- Increasing production output rates
- Improving product quality and consistency
- Increasing flexibility in product manufacturing
- Reducing operating costs
While robots may be far from dominating the planet, there are some immediate concerns regarding their place in the industry. Since World War II, the amount of manufacturing laborers in the United States has steadily declined, from 40% to 10% today, according to FRED Economic Research. While outsourcing has played a large role, many speculate that human manufacturers will eventually be completely replaced with machines. While we do see robots replacing structured job tasks in assembly lines and even warehouses, there is solace in the fact that automation itself is creating millions of jobs in new fields.
So what does the future hold? Dr. Shinsuke Sakakibara, IFR President expects that “…between-2015 worldwide robot sales will increase by about 5% on average per year. Inthe annual supply of industrial robots will reach more than 200,000 units.” According to the IFR,was the most successful year for industrial robots. In his article “How Have Robots Changed Manufacturing,” Robert Lamb, writer at HowStuffWorks, Inc. predicts the future will see an interactive relationship between machines and humans, where machines will learn from humans to increase their capacity of manufacturing tasks. With the recent introduction of Rethink Robotics ‘Baxter’, a unique, affordable robot that is designed to work safely and intelligently next to people, and Intuitive Surgical’s ‘da Vinci’, a sophisticated robot that performs delicate and complex operations on patients with surgeon guidance, it seems that the future is rapidly approaching.