Mobility is a powerful enabler to intelligent robots as it increases the utilization of the robot in different form factors (land-based, air-based/space/drones, water-based and wearable/exoskeleton) and various applications.

Robots Are Going Their Two Separate Ways

Wilmer Zhou | IHS Markit


According to the newly published IHS Markit report “The World Market for Service Robots and Drones – 2016 Edition”, the world market for service robots is estimated to have been worth nearly $3.7 billion in 2015, with revenues forecast to increase to around $15 billion in 2020, growing at a CAGR of 32%.  The industrial robot revenue totaled around $10 billion in 2015 and forecasts them to reach $24 billion in 2020, growing at a CAGR of 18%. The growth of service robots is forecasted to be much higher than the traditional industrial robots. The service robot and robots are also going their two separate ways.

Most of the industrial robots will go the way of “Better, cheaper and faster”.

The traditional mass production manufacturing model will continue for a long time, such as Foxconn in electronic assembling and Volkswagen in automobile production. The industrial robots are perfect for the mass production model. In these factories, industrial robots are similar with normal machines, which are fixed in setting position and programmed to execute specific tasks.  The essential requirements for these traditional industrial robots are efficient, accurate and reliable. Even some of the industrial robots will become more intelligent, most of these industrial robots are going the way of “Better, cheaper and faster”.  

Most of the service robots will go the way of “Intelligent, Friendly and mobile”

More and more needs for customized or personal products are driving the changes in the manufacturing industry.  In order to shorten time to market, be customized, be flexible, manufactured locally, and produced with small batch size, some companies are trying to transform their traditional plants to the new way.  Part of the industrial robots, such as the collaborative robots, will become “Intelligent, Friendly and mobile”.  

Most of the professional service robots and domestic service robots are working in the environments which are dynamic, unpredictable and unstructured. The types of service robots are much more diverse in various applications such as medical, logistic, construction, agriculture…They also have to interact with people frequently.  

These robots are going the way of “Intelligent, Friendly and mobile”. These intelligent robots could have below abilities: to learn with the support of AI, cloud and big data; Easy, safe and friendly human-machine interface; Ease of movement.

  1. Learn with the support of AI, cloud and big data.

Many large companies are currently working to make more intelligent self-learning robots. For example, Google is training its 6-axis robots to pick up objects of various shapes and materials. These robots are not pre-programmed for specific object and their failure rate is high when encountering a new object, but they are able to learn from every failure and try to find the right strategy to pick up the object next time. The robot can learn from its unsuccessful and successful trials, and also share the experience with other robots via the cloud.  

Fanuc, partnering with GPU chipsets supplier Nvidia, trains robots to learn how to pick up randomly positioned objects using trial and errors. Fanuc offers artificial intelligence services to continually improve the operational efficiency of robots, minimize downtime by pre-scheduling maintenance, and optimize robot movements by analyzing vision system and sensor data.  

  1. Easy, safe and friendly human-machine interface

Collaborative robots are between the traditional industrial robot and the service robots. They are more intelligent and friendly than the traditional industrial robots. Many traditional industrial robot vendors showcase their collaborative robots, such as YuMi from ABB, LBR iiwa from KUKA, UR Series from Universal Robots, APAS assistant from Bosch, Sawyer and Baxter from Rethink, CR-35iA from FANUC, NEXTAGE from KAWADA…. IHS forecasts the market for collaborative robots to grow the fastest of all industrial robot types, from $108 million in 2015 to $570 million in 2020. While collaborative robots are not as efficient or accurate when compared to their traditional industrial robots counterpart, they have the advantages of safe, mobile, flexible, space saving, easy to install and deploy.

Service robots need to deal with human frequently. The function of Human-robot interaction (HMI) is critical for service robots in many applications. HMI technologies are intended to develop the natural interfaces that allow for the operation of complex robotic systems.. With the help of HMI technologies, service robots can understand their environments and interact with people. The speech recognition is the most promising technology for human-robot interaction among the various technologies.

  1. Ease of movement

Autonomous Navigation and Mobility is one of the critical differences between intelligent robots and traditional industrial robots.  Mobility is a powerful enabler to intelligent robots as it increases the utilization of the robot in different form factors (land-based, air-based/space/drones, water-based and wearable/exoskeleton) and various applications.

For instance, Wheeled/tracked robots, such as cleaning robots of iRobot/Ecovacs, can adapt well within a semi-structured and semi-predictable environment; legged robots, such as humanoid robots Boston Dynamic ATLAS, Hongda ASIMO and Toyota Shaft, are suitable for the unstructured and unpredictable environment.     

The largest and earliest applications of mobile robots are the warehouse-based systems and intra-logistics operations within factories and the retail environment. Many industry giants have stepped into this area by acquiring mobile robot companies, such as KUKA acquiring Swisslog, Amazon acquiring Kiva, and Omron acquiring Adept.

In conclusion, traditional industrial robots and service robots are going their two separate ways: the way of “Better, cheaper and faster” and the way of “Intelligent, Friendly and mobile”. These intelligent robots could have the abilities of “learn with the support of AI, cloud and big data”; “Easy, safe and friendly human-machine interface”; and “Ease of movement”.

About Wilmer Zhou
Wilmer Zhou is the Senior Analyst for Manufacturing Technology at IHS Technology . He has over eight years of experience covering subjects that include smart manufacturing, industrial robotics, service robots,  machinery production, motion controls, motors and motor drives,

Before joining IHS, Wilmer was a product marketing manager in the electronics industry. Wilmer holds a BS in Mechatronic Engineering from the University of Electronic Science & Technology of China, and MBA master degree from Shanghai JiaoTong University.


The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of RoboticsTomorrow

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