A small white robot was blocked by a group of students during a meal delivery mission on the campus of George Mason University in Virginia. The robot stopped. It could choose to let the students go first, and it could try to bypass them. Keep walking, or you can choose to pass through the crowd. After a few seconds, the robot decided to pass right through the students, splitting the crowd in half.
”Sometimes these robots will come right at your legs,” said Alice Christensen, an anthropology student at the school. She opened the top of another robotic car and pulled out a Subway sandwiches. Christensen, 22, often uses an app like Grubhub or Uber Eats, with deliveries made by robots from startup Starship Technologies. At $2.50 per delivery, Christensen doesn’t mind the cost, but she’s annoyed by the occasional glitchy app and the dozens of Starship robotic cars roaming the campus, making hundreds of deliveries a day Task.
Robots, with their many imperfections, are on the rise, with labor shortages and rising wage costs infusing a new generation of robots that can perform basic tasks like delivering pizza, dispensing medicine, fixing a tire or providing room service in a hotel.
These robots, known as “cobots,” are replacing the workforce lost during the pandemic, and factors such as demographic changes, labor shortages and technology will allow robots to play a greater role in the labor market.
Annual installations of cobots continue to grow
Sales of cobots are growing steadily, with 39,000 installations in 2021, 50% higher than in 2020 and a sharp jump from 11,000 in 2017, according to the International Federation of Robotics, an industry group. .
Boston Consulting Group estimates that if “robot” is defined more broadly to include automated vehicles in industry, hospitality, and logistics and assembly lines, total robot sales will rise from $40 billion in 2023 to 2030. Increased to 160 billion to 260 billion US dollars. Much of that growth will come from services such as hotels, food delivery, recycling stations and airport maintenance. The Boston Consulting Group says service robots will account for $170 billion in annual sales, making them “the industry leader.”
Rising labor costs around the world are driving robotic economics. Wages in Chinese factories have doubled since 2007, making it more economical to have robots working on assembly lines. In the U.S., minimum wages are rising in many states and territories, and the Fast Food Industry Council in California expects restaurant servers to make at least $16.10 an hour in Washington, D.C., by 2027, at which point most labor costs will shift from gratuities into the salary paid by the company.
”We can’t afford to pay $16 an hour,” said Osman Barrie, owner of Steak N Egg Diner in Washington, which uses a robot called “Servi” to deliver food from the kitchen to the table. On the Internet, Barry leased the robot from a start-up called Bear Robotics, paying $639 a month and getting a subsidy from Pepsi, which advertised on the robot. The waiter places the food on the robot’s tray, presses a button on the keyboard, and delivers the food to the customer’s table.
A similar situation is playing out in Europe, where worker shortages and soaring energy costs have led to reduced service offerings in hotels and restaurants.
“It’s just so hard to find waiters,” said Oliver Stahl, chief executive of Robotise, a German company that sells Jeeves robots used in hotel room service, offering things like minibar drinks and toiletries. Starr said that the number of employees in European hotels is still only 50% to 60% of what it was before the epidemic, and electricity bills are too expensive. Some hotels have removed mini bars to save energy. “No matter where you go, the big trend in the hotel industry is service automation,” he said.
Another big driver of the rise of robots is technology. Advances in 3D vision systems, positional mapping, and mechanical engineering are making robots more useful and friendlier. The new models feature touch screens or tablets that anyone can operate, no programming skills required. “Swarm intelligence” helps the robots share tasks and work together. Additionally, the robots are connected via 5G and Wi-Fi networks, allowing companies to monitor, program and troubleshoot remotely.
Artificial intelligence is helping robots handle more unexpected situations, enabling them to cooperate with humans without causing trouble. Robots in industrial environments are often stationary or isolated for safety reasons, while service robots must sense their surroundings and potential hazards. Advances in software have given them situational awareness, allowing them to adjust quickly. For example, a robot built by Starship waits patiently at a crosswalk on the George Mason University campus, programmed to pass when no cars are in view.
To be profitable, the robotics industry has launched a “robot as a service” subscription model, which aims to generate recurring revenue while lowering capital expenditures for machines. For example, Bear Robotics has deployed hundreds of Servi robots to restaurants such as Denny’s and Chili’s, where they can set tables and serve food and drinks. According to Juan Higueros, the company’s co-founder, restaurants pay $700 to $800 a month, which equates to an average of $2.50 an hour.
”The minimum wage for these positions is sometimes five to seven times the cost of a robot,” Iguaros said. Bear Robotics’ forward speed is about 4 feet per second. Opportunity to order a cup or suggest other food, thereby being able to increase the revenue of the restaurant.
Whether these robots, which save companies labor costs, will replace human jobs is an important question. Service robots are doing hard-to-find jobs right now, and hotels, restaurants, healthcare facilities and industrial sites are hoping for more help. The U.S. unemployment rate is near record lows, with 1.7 jobs for every job seeker. Other trends supporting the growth of robots include an aging workforce, declining legal immigration, and the “reshoring” of U.S. manufacturing and supply chains.
Some of the larger robot makers expect sales to accelerate. Jerry Perez, executive sales manager of Japanese company Fanuc (6954. Japan), one of the world’s largest robotic arm manufacturers, said: “Related technology is slowly starting to enter the retail service field, and this is just the beginning. A new model capable of handling payloads of up to 55 pounds is being used in supermarket distribution centers in the U.S., and other models are being used for low-volume custom production in labor-scarce areas, Perez said.
Amazon and Walgreens Boots Alliance Actively Promote Adoption of Robotics
Few companies stand to benefit more from robotics than Amazon (AMZN). The e-commerce giant, which employs more than 1 million warehouse workers, is struggling with worker shortages, union issues and rising labor costs across its delivery network. Amazon’s foray into drones and self-driving cars stems from these pressures.
New robots take Amazon even further. In June 2022, the company began rolling out Proteus, its first fully autonomous robot for warehouses, a device that looks like a Roomba vacuum cleaner with a platform that can carry very heavy items, deliver goods, and operate alongside employees .
Robots likely won’t have much of an impact on Amazon’s operating costs or stock price. Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter estimates that Amazon spends a total of $36 billion an hour on fulfillment center workers, about 16% of its $228 billion operating expenses in 2022. Even if Amazon saves $5 billion a year in hourly wages from robotics, that would be “a drop in the bucket,” Pachter said. He noted that Amazon spent $78 billion on technology and content, $49 billion on sales and marketing, and $13 billion on general and administrative expenses. “Amazon has become quite bloated, and there are a lot of other places to cut costs besides increasing productivity in fulfillment centers,” Pachter said.
Assist the sick as well as make cornflakes
Robotic arms have long been used in surgery, notably the Da Vinci system from Intuitive Surgical (ISRG). A new generation of mobile robots is handling basic tasks typically performed by nurses and orderlies, with robotic carts like “Moxi” and “Relay” delivering lab tests, Medical supplies and other items.
Michael O’Donnell, chief executive of Relay Robotics, said: “Hospitals are currently facing a shortage of nurses, and having robots like the ones we build frees up people to do more valuable jobs. thing.”
Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) recently began testing a nacho-making robot called Chippy at a restaurant in the Los Angeles area. The robot, made by a start-up called Miso Robotics, dips cornflakes in hot oil, stirs a basket in the oil pan, and then washes them with salt and water, said Chipotle Chief Technology Officer Curt Garner. Lime to taste. Garner said that while humans will still be required to pack and serve dishes, robots are indispensable during the lunch rush, when orders soar.
Do robots work for all restaurants? It depends on a variety of factors, including how long the robot runs per shift, maintenance and downtime, sales, and the cost of saving food waste due to human error. According to Miso Robotics, the cost of each robot in the restaurant is $3,500 per month, while the cost of an ordinary employee including benefits is $5,000 to $6,000. It seems that using robots is more economical, but Miso Robotics’ numbers have not yet been tested on a large scale. However, Chipotle and other fast-food chains are still testing whether the robots work in only a handful of locations.
Most of the work done by robots is repetitive tasks, which is why companies are still spending more money on their employees.
Barry, the aforementioned restaurateur, said he hasn’t seen savings in labor costs yet, but the robots help attract customers and help him avoid having to call in extra help during busy times. Barry said that as hourly wages rise — in Washington, the minimum wage will reach $2,500 a month per worker — using robots will become more economical, especially as rising food prices also weigh on margins. case. “Robots don’t get sick, they’re reliable, and they help us a lot when we’re really busy,” he said.
Wall Street has already begun to factor in the potential cost savings from robots in some earnings forecast models.
Investment bank Cowen recently said that kitchen robots are “approaching a tipping point”, predicting that within the next 12 to 18 months, the adoption of robots in the restaurant industry will become more widespread. Cowen estimates that Miso’s robotic arm could potentially eliminate 2,400 man-hours per restaurant per year. Salad chain Sweetgreen (SG) acquired a kitchen robot company called Spyce, which Cowen estimates could reduce hourly labor costs by 50 percent and boost cash flow for restaurants using the system by 6 percent.
Where robots can and don’t come in handy
Aside from being mainly used in industry, most of the current use of robotic technology is still not very widespread. For example, although millions of households have robot vacuum cleaners, these devices have not replaced household vacuum cleaners. While some humanoid robots are already appearing in supermarkets, cleaning, sanitizing and stocking stores, they are still considered a novelty. Despite the huge demand for machines that automate agricultural labor, robotic apple pickers haven’t made much progress beyond testing. In the auto industry, you’re more likely to see robots spot welding or painting in a factory than changing tires in a repair shop, though a startup called RoboTire hopes to change that.
While there are concerns that robots will eventually replace human jobs, there is currently little evidence to support this. Countries such as Japan and South Korea have high levels of robotics but some of the lowest unemployment rates. Automation often increases productivity, increases social wealth, and has “scale effects” that promote growth in adjacent industries. New jobs are emerging that install, program, operate and repair machines. The auto industry was a pioneer in industrial robotics. As automation swept factories, the number of welding jobs fell sharply, but has remained flat for a decade. Today, there are 200,000 more U.S. auto manufacturing jobs than there were in 2012, about 1 million indivual.
According to a recent study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs in many industries vulnerable to robots are projected to grow between now and 2030, with fast-food employment projected to grow by 11.4%, e-commerce warehouses jobs will grow by 0.7%, with robots most widely used in this sector.
For all their benefits, robots are far less flexible than humans. While a robot can fry french fries, it can’t spin, clean up spills, operate a cash register or deal with tantrums. Most of the work done by robots is repetitive tasks, which is why companies are still spending more money on their employees.
Robots are also far from replacing knowledge workers who rely on human creativity and thinking. New AI software such as ChatGPT is on the rise, but even if it is integrated into the mind and body of a robot, it may be years before an analytical essay can be written.