The International Federation of Robotics reports another record year of robot sales in 2014. 225,000 robots were sold worldwide. 26% over the previous year. The estimated inventory of working robots is now approaching 2 million and increasing dramatically. The shipped value of the robots is in the range of $11 billion and the estimated value of the total installed cost, including engineering and integration is around $33 billion, three times the equipment cost.
This makes the robot market roughly the same size as the semiconductor equipment market, which is to say, really big. Not that we should be surprised, but for old timers who have had dealings with the robot since the early days of the Unimate, this is quite a change. What is even more interesting is that in spite of the current value of robot shipment, industry experts anticipate growth of 300-400% over the next decade as human assist and service robots enter the market.
A future that is beginning to look a lot like the movie “I Robot”. In the near term are there practical applications where robot interaction with humans is likely? I’m thinking robot bartenders and the like. Robots that give traveler assistance in airports, who could be tied into the the latest gate and travel information. Walking tour guides in museums?
Or is this mere fantasy?
The “loader” or “man amplifier” robot operated by Sigourny Weaver in Alien is a real piece of equipment. The military has been demonstrating human assist exoskeletons for some time to increase the load capacity of soldiers. In parallel with the military application, the medical community has developed exoskeletons that are intended to replace wheelchairs by giving people the ability to walk who are not able due to injury.
Pretty amazing stuff.
Are all of these going to be categorized as “robots”? What are the lines that separate an actuator from a robot? A production line robot can be as simple as 3 linear actuators stacked on top of each other and moving in 3D coordinate space. So there are some blurry lines here.
Part of the rapid increase is due to the entry of Universal Robots and their “collaborative” robot. These machines have current sensing algorithms that detect interference with the robot trajectory and put the system into emergency stop. In addition the Univeral Robots are generally sold at prices that are very low in comparison to other 6 axis serial robot manipulators.
But price isn’t the only issue. Software for operating robots has matured signficantly and there are now multiple sources for universal robot platforms. These are software environments that use the actual mechanical definitions of an individual robot’s construction and manage the motion more efficiently than systems in the past.
More next week.