Breakthroughs in robotics continue to make headlines. Most of the interest generated by the dramatic reduction in system cost for the new class of “human safe” robots.
Most people understand, even if they are not economists, that if something costs less, it will sell more. So as robot manufacturers have broken the $30,000 barrier, which seemed impossible only a few years ago, robot sales are setting record annual sales. And making headlines news at the same time.
Finally a class of robots exist that can replace a human in a number of manufacturing situations. The applications for robots is predominantly where human safety is at risk, where human precision and repeatability is a problem and in both cases, where the cost of the robot is less than the cost of labor.
Prices are declining in many areas of the industrial controls market. Computing power continues to become cheaper and as industrial markets react to new product entries, control system suppliers are beginning to respond as well. After all, who can argue with a Raspberry Pi based control that costs $30? Or an Intel Edison chip that costs $10.
The cost of display technology has certainly fallen since the ubiquitous flat screen TV has finally made progress to the consumer level. Now with the massive use of tablets, the mobile computing market has established compelling price points and functionality so that every controls tech wants his applications to be viewable from his phone or tablet.
Even the electric motor, which is probably the most resistant to cost reduction, is seeing a wave of improved and reduced cost control technology helping to drive costs lower. Some motor improvements result from the impact of lower electronics cost. Power semiconductor prices have fallen in the low power realm reducing speed controller costs and dedicated motor control processors make complex motor control solutions a snap at $1 prices.
A robot is a complex mechanism that combines electric motors and control systems in order to provide a programmable platform to do work. So the key components are controls, display technology, motors, positions sensing devices, all of which are declining in cost. Many of the fundamental improvements involving behavior of the equipment, such as current loop sensing of collisions, are only practical because of the extremely low cost of control.
So in the end, its all about the control, and how we use it.