Today, we will talk about the major trends that have had the most significant impact on the development of robotics as well as dwell upon what has been new in the world of modern robots in recent years.
Popularization of robotics
Nowadays robotics is widely used in manifold industries, its significance is well understood in financial circles, and it is popularized by the media. Efficiency, reliability, low error rates, and high productivity are the hallmarks of today's automation, with modern robotic arms becoming ever more widespread.
Over the past years, special sections on robotics have appeared in major world publications, including The Economist, The Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, and many others. In addition, many financial institutions and consulting firms such as McKinsey and Deloitte issue ad hoc reports on modern manufacturing technologies, their impact on industry, job creation, and employment in general.
Strategic acquisitions in the robotics segment became massive and have been especially visible since 2012, when Amazon acquired Kiva Systems for $775 million to provide a solution to its warehouse problems in the future. Since then, we have witnessed quite a few similar large deals involving manufacturing and investment companies.
Advances in machine vision
The new robots with machine vision systems are essentially different from the old-style ones. Previous industrial systems required a part to be at a specific time in a specific place, that is, the robot was “blind” and programmed only to take that part and perform a manipulation. Each stage and process in the workflow required manual and rather thorough programming. The new systems using video cameras and software to identify and search for objects are more flexible in this regard, allowing for freer movement of parts at different stages of processing. As a result, the travel system becomes less expensive.
Artificial intelligence and various systems for training robots make it possible to create improved systems of visual perception. A lot of companies now offer machine vision systems that can complement existing stationary products, or produce mobile manipulators that are capable of locating an object and determining the best way to grip it, working with parts from plastic toys to boxes and stands. Replacing expensive conveyors and handling systems with more affordable robots is gaining popularity thanks to the new opportunities for manufacturers and warehouse operators.
One of the most prominent examples of massive robotics deployment is BMW, which already had 7,500 collaborative robots in its factories as of 2015. BMW uses versatile robots that operate in conjunction with workers who show them a sequence of actions for complex operations. Robots learn quickly and perform those tasks perfectly; in the meantime, workers are able to complete tasks that cannot yet be entrusted to robots. The photo below shows a Universal Robots cobot. There is also a more affordable, yet highly efficient alternative — the xArm 5 Lite.
Currently, collaborative robots are becoming more and more popular, with a number of companies producing high-end solutions perfect for various industries. Experts believe that collaborative, lightweight robots will soon be a common phenomenon in production.