The Amazon order-fulfillment center in Tracy, California, is more than a million square feet. That's equal to 28 football fields. Imagine if it was all up to humans to traverse this warehouse, finding, packing and shipping goods! But Amazon's smart warehouse uses Kiva's robots to make things easier for its employees. Instead of the employee going to the shelves, the robots bring the shelves to the humans. Advances in robotics have whipped up economic activity, and made room for higher quality and better paying jobs. In the Outsourcing industry also, the next wave of productivity is expected to come from robotics or more precisely Roboshoring.
While the offshoring phenomena did drive efficiencies in the last decade, several companies are now realizing that the real costs of doing business in offshore locations is not that low, especially in manufacturing operations. Keeping an eye on quality becomes an even harder task. Long lead times from R&D to production and weeks of shipping locks in a lot of costs as well. The distance between on-shore R&D and offshore production also slows down innovation. Thus, several companies see merit in moving manufacturing operations back onshore or near shore. Innovations in industrial robotics like Baxter, the interactive industrial robot which learns through human actions and costs only $22,000, are also helping realize these ambitions. However, companies still need to decide which tasks make sense to get Roboshored and which do not.
Roboshoring of tasks is expected to happen in two distinct phases:
- In commercial service robots such as those used in cleaning and industrial purposes or hazardous areas and environments. This phase would also include robots that provide human augmentation, for example surgical robots and advanced prosthetics.
- In tasks related to BPO and BPI, education, sales and even molecule discovery. This phase will see more advanced tasks move to robots with highly advanced artificial intelligence and natural language interfaces.
Innovation in robotics is expected to be on the rise in the near future. In 2013 alone, more than 230 robot startups were born in the United States - from industrial to entertainment and toys. The size of the opportunity is immense and companies are investing in robotics to help achieve efficiencies and introduce new business lines.
With parallel advances in artificial intelligence, 3D cameras, sensors and silicon skin, the robots of the future will become increasingly intelligent and humanoid leading to their widespread acceptance in our daily lives. However, the concerns about robots replacing humans can be put to rest - they still lack the intuition, empathy and creativity that only humans can bring to the table. Robots are, at best, a sophisticated piece of machinery that help augment human productivity.
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