Robots are turning pro, as in professional service robots.
For those of us a certain age, the phrase “professional service robot” conjures the image of The Jetsons’ Rosie the Robot. It turns out service robots can do much more than vacuum under the table. The next generation of AI-enable automatons is spawning a new product category branded by one market research as the Internet of Robotic Things.
In an industry survey, Coherent Market Insights foresees IoRT as nothing less than an “emerging dynamic in the market that combines an autonomous robotic system with the Internet of Things capabilities.” Along with AI, the autonomous platforms combine machine vision via connected sensors with embedded “smart objects.”
Those advances will translate into a market forecast approaching $110 billion by 2027, the survey concludes, with various government agencies pouring millions of dollars into R&D. The U.K. government, for instance, announced a roughly $40 million research effort to develop safer service robots.
Applications abound, according to the bullish forecast, especially in sectors ranging from healthcare and construction to logistics and supply chain management. A far more controversial application is robotic soldiers, an ethical minefield if there ever was one.
The market tracker notes that service robots are best suited to assisting human operators, performing mundane, repetitive tasks as well as dangerous ones. While remotely-controlled robots have long been used to help defuse bombs and other hazardous missions, the pandemic is creating healthcare uses cases such as UVD robots used to disinfect hospital rooms with ultraviolet light.
Meanwhile, AI is imbuing service robots with machine vision capabilities that enhance their ability to sense and navigate. According to the industry survey, “AI-enabled robots can learn to perform their tasks from humans through machine learning and modify the tasks as per requirements.”
By way of example, the study noted that Qualcomm Technologies released a robotics development platform last year. Dubbed RB5, the development kit is designed to help build consumer and industrial robots incorporating 5G connectivity, on-device AI and machine learning as well as intelligent sensing capabilities. RB5 is based on Qualcomm’s QRB5165 processor, which it tailored to robotics applications and integrated with the company’s AI engine.
As the ecosystem for development emerges, along with new use cases, Coherent Market Insights forecast the professional services robot market will grow at a compound annual rate of 24.5 percent.
Along with familiar names like Roomba maker iRobot and Boston Dynamics, the expanding market is expected to attract heavy hitters like Robert Bosch and Northrop Grumman Corp.
Still unresolved is an AI trust issue raised by our colleague David Benjamin in the context of self-driving vehicles: Will AI eventually confer unto service robots and their algorithms human-like emotions like fear, empathy and Rosie the Robot’s remarkable ability to put up with a whacky cartoon family?