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More Robots to Work alongside Humans in the 2020s Workplace

As robotics technologies have advanced significantly in the past few years, robots for enterprise markets are becoming more affordable, productive and smarter than ever before. This trend is resulting in a tremendous increase in the number of enterprises within industries such as, construction, warehousing and logistics, telepresence, customer service, among others that are willing to cut costs and increase efficiencies,  according to a new research by analyst firm Tractica that forecasts that worldwide shipments of enterprise robots will grow from approximately 83,000 units in 2016 to 1.2 million units in 2022, increasing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 57% during that period.  Worldwide revenue for the enterprise robotics market will increase from $5.9 billion in 2016 to $67.9 billion in 2022.

Enterprise robots – the new normal

The researchers said, just as robotics has transformed manufacturing and heavy industry in recent years, robot-led processes are beginning to impact enterprise work processes, with innovative and effective solutions being introduced with increasing frequency.  Several prominent companies are already investing in large-scale enterprise robotics implementations and have begun to trust robots to solve the existing challenges and productivity gaps due to issues with human workforces.

In another related study, published in the Journal of the Association for Information Systems, researchers found that workplace robots are capable of boosting better performance and team viability.

Previous studies have focused on linking emotional attachment to robots with individual fun and enjoyment in more playful settings, said Sangseok You, who began what he and colleagues believe is the first study of its kind on attachment between groups and robots as a doctoral candidate at the School of Information at the University of Michigan.

“We found that humans perform better with robotic teammates when they have strong emotional attachment to them,” said You, now an assistant professor at HEC Paris. Amazon’s warehouse robots are a good example – as they bring items to human workers for packaging, only comparatively small areas of their vast real estate portfolios need to be heated and made comfortable for the humans who work alongside the machines.

Read more: Top 5 Robotic Process Automation Trends in 2020

“This means that organizations like Amazon should invest in approaches that encourage their employees to have some level of emotional attachment with their robotic coworkers.”

In another research, Dr Charlotte Edmunds, of Warwick Business School, said that robots could be taught to recognize human emotions from human movements. His findings suggest robots could learn to use the same movements, alongside facial expressions and tone of voice, to recognize human internal states.

It raises the prospect that robots, already used to teach languages, could recognize when workers are bored, and customer service robots could identify when people feel angry or stressed.

“One of the main goals in the field of human-robot interaction is to create machines that can recognize human emotions and respond accordingly,” said Edmunds, based on the research.

Working alongside robots

In fact, more decision makers are realizing that collaborative robots – or cobots – are the friendly face of workplace automation – not here to steal away our jobs, but to work alongside us, providing timely advice or simply mechanical muscle at times we need it. As robotic technology becomes more widespread and deployment costs fall, businesses will realize that they can drive efficiency by deploying robots in environments which are unsafe or inhospitable to humans.

Read more: Robotics Jobs Are Seeing a Whopping Rise in India

Robots are already used as ideal platforms for edge computing – building sensors into the extremities of automated systems, where machines meet the real-world environments they are built to influence. Greater advances in smart sensors – sensors with inbuilt artificial intelligence – is reducing the need for information to be sent to the cloud or centralized servers for processing, before it can be acted on.

Those leading the charge include Baidu – which has just unveiled China’s first open source edge computing platform, OpenEdge, which will allow developers of robots to empower their creations with AI, reducing CPU and bandwidth overheads used by cloud infrastructure. This should enable smarter, more autonomous robots to begin to appear in homes and industrial settings going forward.

The downside of bonding with robots

The researchers caution, however, that too much emotional attachment to robots or artificial humans can have drawbacks.

“For example, robots are machines which record their interactions with others,” said Lionel Robert, an associate professor of information and a member of the Michigan Robotics Institute.

“Humans that believe they can trust robots in the same way that trust their human coworkers might forget about the video cameras in robots and say or engage in behaviors that might be viewed as unacceptable by the company,” he cautioned.

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Sohini Bagchi
Sohini Bagchi is Editor at CXOToday, a published author and a storyteller. She can be reached at sohini.bagchi@trivone.com