Often, robots create excitement and fear. Science fiction writers and movie makers portray robots as mysterious supernatural characters–creating excitement. Science fiction also creates fear that robots will likely be taking over the world due to superior sensing, supercomputing, and strong action-taking capabilities. People enjoy those movies as envisioning the future of robots creates a sensation. On the other hand, high job loss prediction due to robotics makes people apprehensive about the uprising of robots. Moreover, some people are under the belief that robots will rise and conspire to take over the human race. Such reality often raises the question, what is the purpose of robots? What are the benefits of robots?
The purpose of robots has been to improve safety, increase precision, and reduce wastage in production. Consequentially, we will enjoy the benefits of robots in the form of safer roads, higher quality and more foods, minimally invasive high precision surgery, less harm to the environment, and higher safety for human coworkers. However, the purpose of the Humanoid robots has been to mimic human-like physical and cognitive behavior to take over work from humans. The development of humanoid robots has been limited to creating sensation and fear factors about the future of work; hence, the rest of the article does not address it further.
Although the inspiration for recreating humans inspired robot making almost more than 2000 years ago, economic incentives came for deploying them for dull, dirty, and dangerous jobs. Particularly, robots having human-like arms have been found very useful in factories. The continued growth of technology is expanding the application of robots for serving precision, waste, and safety purposes. Robot application areas include manufacturing, surgery, weaponry, space exploration, picking and assembling, and food processing.
Robots benefits open opportunity of fueling creative wave of destruction
Robots’ high precision operation often leads to lower wastage and also higher safety. Due to this advantage, the application of robots has been expanding, often as Creative waves of destruction. Such unfolding waves of robots also raise the issue of the future of work. In fact, as opposed to just performing 3D tasks, robotics is growing as a major wave of competitiveness. Moreover, robots’ capability of precision operation, wastage reduction, and improving safety strongly contribute to the agenda of sustainable development goals. Here are a few examples explaining the benefits of robots as higher precision, lower wastage, and greater safety in various industries.
Examples of robots serving precision, wastage and safety purposes
Getting the benefit of high precision–the purpose of robots in surgery
The primary purpose of robots in surgery is to overcome the limitations of human dexterity so that high-precision surgery can be performed through minimal openings of the human body.
Precision matters in surgery. Damaging even an extra cell, then necessary, matters. On the other hand, leaving behind one cancerous cell is good enough to restart the process. The dexterity of surgeons’ hands plays a vital role in the operation. Nevertheless, it faces limitations. Only a few surgeons worldwide can perform “super microsurgery”, referring to surgery on blood vessels ranging from 0.3 to 0.8 millimeters. Of course, we need far higher precision, as the average size of a human cell is about 100 μm in diameter. Such an underlying limitation of human hands demands us to take refuge to the hands of robots. Already, commercial robots are in use to operate with a degree of precision down to 1 millimeter. They are being used by urologists, general surgeons, cardiothoracic, gynecologists, and pediatric surgeons. The given technology progress indicates that surgical robot makers will keep offering increasingly higher accuracy.
Moreover, robotics tools are handy for minimally invasive surgery (MIS). MIS involves the use of long rigid or flexible surgical instruments that are inserted into the body through small incisions or natural orifices. Soft robotic devices have desirable characteristics for such applications. Hence, robots in surgery serve the purpose of precision cutting and performing minimally invasive surgery.
Robots in the food industry for reducing wastage purpose
Wastage in food processing is a major issue. It reduces yield and increases the cost of handling avoidable wastage. The fish processing industry is increasingly finding robots as help. For example, the Canadian Centre for Fisheries Innovation has been developing a robot crab butcher and meat extractor. Hence, the purpose of robots in the food industry includes reducing the wastage of food.
Patented robots cutting up snow crabs and extracting meats are ending up increasing yield. Similarly, robots cutting Salmon or codfish are extracting 5 to 7 percent extra meat. The robotic bleeding system can adapt to size variation for precisely targeting the right gill-cut location on each fish. It has been found to be better than 99 percent accurate.
With the guidance of machine vision, the Salmon trimming robot adapts operation based on weight, shape, and color grade before trimming loins, belly sides, and fillet surfaces. Performance data indicate that salmon trimming robots can perform more quickly, consistently, and continuously than a master trimmer. Moreover, automated machines are operating to scan each fillet to detect its color, any melanin and blood spots, and any trimming defects such as belly membrane, belly bone, or back defects. Subsequently, fillets are automatically sorted.
Robot cars for improving road safety
Over the last 100 years, we have been witnessing a steady growth in the automobile population. There seems to be no sign of slowing down. Already, we have 2 billion of them, and every year, 100 million additional automobiles are added to this fleet. Automobiles offer us freedom of mobility and many other benefits. Nevertheless, they often cause harm. Road accident is a leading cause of unnatural death. On average, 1.3 million people die every year due to raid accidents. Many more people get insured. Some of them live their life without arms, broken legs, and chronic pain of spinal cords. On average, we lose 3 percent of GDP due to road accidents. The leading cause has been human errors.
Not only intoxication or fatigue, but there is also a natural limitation. In fact, healthy human drivers take at least 700 ms to respond to a suddenly occurring situation. Often, accidents happen within this period. There is a possibility that robot cars may require less than 700ms to detect and respond to obstacles, resulting in making roads safer. Autonomous driving or robotic cars could be a solution to substitute human limitations in driving, resulting in fewer accidents. There is a strong indication that robot cars may roll out with the capacity to be more responsive than human drivers. Consequently, they will cause far fewer accidents. There have been some advancements to exploit this possibility. More than $80 billion has been invested in R&D to turn the possibility into a practical solution. Nonetheless, there is a long way to go.
Robots for improving precision in furniture manufacturing to reduce wastage
Often, we perceive furniture-making as a labor-intensive activity. You need just a couple of tools, pieces of wood, and drawings of the furniture to get started. But if you are in the business of making the furniture and exporting it in a knockdown form, precision matters. As opposed to getting the delivery of complete furniture, customers bring home pieces and they assemble them together by themselves. Millimeter variation in length or hole size can halt the assembling. If a customer is required to call a carpenter, the cost escalates. In the worst case, it may end up in costly returns and wastage. Hence, precision in furniture-making matters. Over the last couple of decades, there has been a steady growth of robots and automation in the furniture industry for precision cuts, joints, and holes. Moreover, robots are used for precision finishing, which leads to higher quality and lower wastage.
High-precision meat cut with robot butcher
Having an optimum cut of meat from the carcasses of animals is a complicated task. Meat, fat, and bone content need to meet specifications to quality for a grade. Despite high capability, human beings cannot see through carcasses to exactly locate bone or estimate fat content. Robot’s x-ray eye offers an alternative. As opposed to humans’ visual observation, “The first robot takes X-rays and a CT scan of the carcass, which generates a 3D model of its shape and size. Based on what the system sees in the model, another bot drives rotary knives between the ribs and cuts through the hanging carcass, using the spinal cord as a reference point.”
Using real-time (high-speed) x-ray and CT scans to see through the carcass, robot butchers can perform the meat-cutting job more precisely than a human butcher, addressing the quality issue. They also maximize the yield of the production of different meat products from the same carcass. Moreover, they reduce costs and improve food safety by reducing human touch and presence. Hence, the purpose of robots in the meat industry has been to increase yield, improve precision, and reduce contamination. Therefore, it’s predicted that the wave of robots in the meat industry will keep rising for the benefits of precision cutting, wastage reduction, and food safety improvement.
The purpose of robots in the food industry is for safer food and lower wastage
Food wastage is a burning issue. Besides, food contamination due to human touch and breath causes ailment. Fortunately, Robots in the food industry offer various benefits, from reducing wastage to contamination.
To address food contamination, regulatory agencies are coming up with increasingly stringent compliance guidelines. Human touch and presence pose safety hazards to food. Unlike humans, robots do not grow viruses in their lounges, and they do not breathe. There is no human-like hygiene issue with robots. Due to natural limitations, human presence in food processing plants will pose a safety issue. On the other hand, Robot workers could be made free of contamination issues. Unlike the conventional reason of labor-saving, robot use in the food industry, particularly in developed countries, will keep growing by a CAGR of 29% by 2019, for clean and contamination-free production demands. Robots limit human contact with food items. As robots reduce the risk of contamination, leading to lowering foodborne illnesses and lower wastage, demand for robots in the food industry has been rapidly growing.
Flying robots for precision distribution of farming inputs
Flying robots or drones are offering the benefits of increasing precision in sensing soil conditions and crop health, resulting in more precise farming input dispensing for higher crop yield and less wastage of inputs.
So far, human labor and mechanical machinery have been dominating farming activities. It’s neither considered dull, nor dirty, nor dangerous either. Well, why should we then talk about robotics for farming? It’s for precision, robot matters. Human judgment is beneficial in determining soil quality and fertilizer needs, among others. Nevertheless, precision suffers. It has been learned that precision inaccuracy of humans’ sensing, perception, and judgment leads to as high as more than 25 percent wastage of inputs like fertilizer and pesticide. Moreover, due to this poor precision, the actual yield is almost 20 percent less than the optimal level. Hence, for higher yield and less wastage of farming inputs, precision farming technique has been finding increasing roles of robots.
To increase the food production yield and reduce the wastage of inputs, we desperately need means for improving precision in sensing, judging, and distributing inputs. It has been found that aerial robots, known as unmanned aerial vehicles, mounted with intelligence tools like sensors and software could lead to far accuracy in sensing and judgment. Moreover, onboard dispensing units can precisely distribute inputs like fertilizer and pesticides. Aerial robots can assess the ground-level situation accurately and optimally distribute farming inputs. Consequentially, it could lead to wastage reduction and yield improvement by as much as 10 to 15 percent. Moreover, the reduction of wastage of pesticides also increases food safety. Therefore, robots benefits in farming have been due to increasing precision, reducing wastage, and improving food safety.
Purpose of robots in dairy is for precision timing in milking
Milking cows not only take labor. How to figure out the optimum timing of milking is an issue. Inaccurate timing leads to inconvenience to cows and lower milk production. What about robot milking stations? Milking robots offer voluntary options to cows for milking, resulting in more milk per cow and less labor cost.
As opposed to milking cows at a certain time chosen by farmers, cows get the freedom to decide. At the time of their choice, cows show up at robot milking stations. Volunteer milking is the underlying cause of higher milk production. Robot milking is a useful tool for addressing the paramount importance of balancing yield with cows’ health and welfare. In a UK farm, cows deliver an additional 2,000 liters of milk between calving intervals, which is 420 days due to robot milking. Hence, milking robots are serving the purpose of increasing milk production yield.
In the competitive market, exploiting every opportunity to improve quality, reduce wastage, and enhance safety matters. Robots’ increasing capability of performing tasks with a growing level of accuracy seriously matters. The precision and wastage reduction benefit appears to be far higher than cost savings from labor. Hence, the uprising of robotics is one of the key visible changes in the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Due to the continued advancement of the underlying technology core, an innovation flywheel effect from leveraging of robot benefits has been a growing reality. In some industries, they are already growing as creative waves of destruction, resulting in winner-takes-it-all. Hence, robot benefits for Precision, Wastage, and Safety are fueling the rise of competitiveness in an increasing number of industries. Therefore, the main purpose of robots in production has been to improve precision, reduce wastage, and increase safety instead of just cost-saving from labor replacement.