Robotics has come a long way from the earliest prototypes of the 18th century to the present day. The digital revolution of the 21st century has made it possible to incorporate all the innovations of computing into traditional robotic engineering. But it has also made the opposite possible: generating artificial entities or bots within a completely digital virtual environment, to facilitate communication with the user or automating procedures through RPA.
Thanks to the development of artificial intelligence and machine learning, robotics is growing rapidly and predicts countless benefits at the social and business level. In this article we review the disciplines that may benefit from technological advances in robotics, and we point out the latest advances made in Spain and in other countries.
Advances in robotics
During the last decade, the number of industrial robotic installations has tripled around the world. Although robots are still associated with mechanical and repetitive tasks, new digital strategies have expanded their application capabilities to include a variety of areas beyond traditional mechanical tasks.
The following are just a few of the most notable robotic advancements:
- Learning new tasks: Artificial intelligence and machine learning have made it possible for robots to take on increasingly difficult tasks. This innovation involves not only the detection and collection of parts, but also the improvement of communication protocols between robots which can automate the manufacturing process without human supervision.
- Smart Manufacturing: Some of the most significant improvements in industrial robotics have taken place in the automotive industry. Besides the traditional use of robots for assembling parts, autonomous mobile robots have also begun to be tested in recent years. These new models are able to move around the factory without a driver and perform the tasks they are scheduled to do at different points on the production line. An even more remarkable advance is that Google’s worker robots can interact with humans and even download their own personalities to facilitate communication.
- Robotic Surgery and Medicine: Robots like Da Vinci are already capable of performing surgical operations and contributing to the treatment of certain types of cancer. Robots are being used in the medical industry to improve surgical precision and decrease postoperative recovery times. Robots are also being designed to detect and eliminate viruses such as Ebola.
- Multitasking robots: Momentum Machines created a robot that can prepare a hamburger while performing all the necessary tasks at the same time. This Momentum Machines innovation will allow process automation in fast food restaurants.
- Home robots: The manufacture of robots at an affordable price for household environments is already underway. Robots like the Asus Zenbo or Pepper move autonomously and can, among other things, detect human emotions or even connect to the other components of a smart home.
Bots and robots: improved processes thanks to RPA
In addition to new developments in industrial robotics, robotization also contributes to automating processes in a digital environment. This is the case for robotic process automation (RPA). Usually we associate robots with optimization in component manufacturing, and RPA consists of applying the same concept to computer models.
In this sense, RPA consists of the use of soft bots, that is, software robots. These robots communicate with a specific computer application and allow increasing productivity, performing tasks that were previously carried out manually. They are also capable of communicating with the user, correcting misspellings or keeping a productivity log, among many other functions.
The advancement of RPA is mainly due to the increase in processing capabilities of today’s computers and to the improvement of Internet connections. RPA makes it possible for information to be processed faster, update a database, send emails automatically or integrate different computer systems, programs and applications.
Advantages of robots today
The previous sections prove that the implementation of robotics has substantial benefits for society and companies. Some of the major benefits of robotics and its technological development are:
- Higher productivity and lower cost: Having the ability to work twenty-four hours a day, robots can streamline and optimize any automatable process. This will increase efficiency and reduce costs.
- More management information: Robots can keep an automatic record of the tasks performed in the industrial or administrative field. This allows a more thorough review of the objectives achieved, to modify the workflow and improve the productivity of the company.
- Energy efficiency: The use of robots contributes to greater precision, with a decreased waste of resources. Furthermore, their energy efficiency reduces the carbon footprint of the sector in which they are used, and they may even contribute to the development of renewable energy resources such as photovoltaic panels.
- New markets: The improvement of intelligent connectivity has made robotics integrate into other economic sectors such as the textile or food industries. The greater flexibility of movement of the robots has made the usual production line obsolete, which has applications for any type of industrial activity that wants to automate processes.
Robotics engineering in Spain
According to the 2020 report of the International Federation of Robotics, Spain is the fourth European country with the most industrial robotics installations, and the eleventh country in the industrial ranking in terms of the automation of tasks in factories. Considering these figures, the Spanish industrial sector can be considered a benchmark in the application of robotic engineering.
It is important to note that the implementation of robots in Spanish economic activity still requires further development. About 50% of Spain’s robots are employed in the automotive sector, which suggests that robot use within the business sector is still limited.
While it is true that most Spanish multinationals employ robotic automation processes, it is possible to explain the slowness in developing new functionalities by the absence of experts in robotics. Fortunately, this booming sector is already showing signs of growth, with examples such as the use of the Da Vinci surgical robot at IMED Valencia or the innovations in mobile robotics by robotics companies in Spain such as Robotnik.
The future of robotics
Clearly, robotics technology has much room for improvement. In the near future, 5G will expand robots’ capacity to work and to communicate with humans. It’s likely that robotic optimization will impact the professional services, with logistics robots replacing low-paying jobs.
It is also noteworthy to mention the development of soft robotics, where robotics are integrated with organic tissues. This discipline will allow, for example, to create smart bandages that facilitate healing or contribute to greater mobility in people who have suffered muscle loss. Soft robotics will have an important role in medical robotics: the possibility of generating robotic organs integrated with the body is already being considered, to replace organs surgically removed due to diseases such as cancer.
Of course, robotics innovations in the transportation industry will continue to advance. Uber has already tested semi-autonomous vehicles, which work with auto-navigation but return control to the driver in risky circumstances. And not only that: robots can also contribute to caring for the environment through the use of biodegradable materials, which will allow them to be disposed of without worrying about their effect on the environment.
As the previous examples show, robotics allows endless uses and applications in all kinds of economic and social activities. The arrival of 5G and the increase in artificial intelligence will give a definitive boost to all robotics projects that are already in the development and research phase. Human-robot interaction could become a fundamental part of our lives in a few years.