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The service robotics industry is poised to grow at a compounded rate of 16.5% through 2018 according to TechNavio’s Global Service Robot Market report.  What does the future hold in logistics?

What does the future of robotics hold? Will tomorrow’s robots fulfill the promises of sci-fi dreams, complete with humanoid machines than can convey emtions and pass the Turing Test?   Or will their uses be a little more practical?

Robots are already being used to bolster productivity in a vast array of professional environments: Militaries use them to gather intelligence and disable land mines. Hospitals use them to deliver crucial medications and materials to patients. Warehouses use them to fulfill orders. Yes, it turns out that in work environments in particular, robots can perform quite a few duties that humans normally take on — except more often than not, robots are more efficient and allow employees to perform higher value-added tasks.

Multiple recent reports on the robotics sector are already predicting further growth over the next decade and beyond, including TechNavio’s Global Service Robot Market 2014-2018 report —  which is predicting a 16.5 percent Compound Annual Growth Rate in the service robotics sector by 2018.

Breaking the Threshold

Over the past few years, robotics have made unprecedented technological leaps and adoption is growing significantly.  Where previously, robots might have been reserved for dull or dangerous tasks, like painting car doors, today’s robots are far more precise in their movements and are directed by more complex software — allowing industries of all types to deploy their own robotic, logistical helpers. In addition, robots (and their components) are far more affordable, capable, and reliable than ever before.

We need look no further than the growing interest in self-driving cars to see exactly how these “threshold breaks” can change society and business for the better. Logistics company DHL recently published its report, “Self-Driving Vehicles in Logistics,” which outlines some of the implications and use cases for logistical automation.

The report details some of the potential benefits of one form of automation that’s rapidly entering the public consciousness: Self-driving cars. And many of these values speak to the broader benefits for robotic automation:

 

  • Improved safety, by adapting to changes in road conditions and obstacles with more diligence and precision than human drivers
  • Higher efficiency — Vehicle-to-vehicle communication optimizes the movements of vehicles through convoying and allowing higher speeds. And of course, this leads to cost reduction and a smaller carbon footprint.
  • Driver dual-tasking. When a robot does the driving for us, we can perform other activities and make better use of our time.

 

These are just some of the reasons why experts predict such rapid growth in service robotics in the coming years. To read the full DHL report, click here.

 

Future Case Uses

Although logistical automation via robotics is already gaining traction, the sector’s projected growth will open numerous opportunities for the technology to flourish in society. Here are some applications that experts tell us to watch for in the coming years:

 

  • Outdoor Applications: Although today’s self-driving vehicles are typically restricted to indoor, closed-course, or warehouse environments, these precursors may soon pave the way for robots to take over airport, yard, and port logistics in order to reduce congestion and improve employee safety. A research project called SaLsa is actually trying to test autonomous transport vehicles in yards.
  • Convoying: For trucking transportation, convoying consists of lines of vehicles wherein the first vehicle is driven by a human, while those that follow along, coupling and de-coupling at stops along the way. Multiple pilot projects are already underway.
  • “Last mile” package delivery: Although today’s self-driving cars are primarily designed to excel at highway driving, in the future, delivery companies, like DHL, may be able to bring packages directly to customers’ doors by using aerial or terrestrial robots.
  • Internal logistics: While not a “car”, autonomous mobile robots, like the TUG, can provide assisted material delivery or order-picking.  This logistics-helper is more flexible than traditional conveyor systems and allows human employees to focus on high-value add tasks such as inspection, assembly or customer service.

 

Although some of these possibilities may come to fruition and others may not, if the current state of robotics is any indication, we can take a few more universal guesses at how robots will be used in logistics:

 

  • To quell rising labor costs
  • To do jobs that people can’t or don’t want to do
  • To fulfill tasks that require immense precision and immaculate timing
  • To simplify complex supply chains and connect networks

 

Business of all types have always been looking for ways to reduce costs and improve performance and because of this automation has always moved forward.  Robotics will continue to raise the bar.