Commercial service robots are robots that perform some useful task, with the exception of those robots operating within the realm of industrial automation or those considered consumer robots. This basically means that any robot that is not involved in industrial automation or for strictly consumer purposes are commercial service robots. This category includes robots that operate within logistics operations, hospitals, in the retail store, providing security services, and even delivering your takeout orders. There is a massive opportunity for commercial service robots to take on tasks that enable people to spend time doing other things that humans excel at, while stepping away from the dull, dirty, or dangerous tasks.
IDC recently fielded a survey that asked 600 decision makers across several industries about their current and future of commercial service robots. An impressive 90% of the response came back that the organization is currently using, piloting, researching, or planning to deploy commercial service robots within their organization.
The amazing thing is the range of industries surveyed indicating that they have plans relative to commercial service robotics. The survey focused on the following industries: oil & gas, retail, wholesale/distribution, hospitality (accommodations), healthcare providers, federal and state governments, and warehousing and logistics. Many of these industries are not necessarily the industries that are typically associated with robots.
Each of these industries had a very different current state of deployment relative to commercial service robotics. For example, retail led the way in enterprise wide deployments, with 19% of North American retailers surveyed indicating the use of commercial service robots across the enterprise. At the other end of the spectrum, wholesale/distribution trailed the entire field with 0% indicating enterprise wide deployments, but this industry is leading the way in terms of current pilot projects of commercial service robots with 54%.
The question now is, what does this mean? Representatives across a range of industries are using or considering the use of commercial service robots at some point in the near future, so what? What this indicates is that companies, regardless of their industry, are recognizing the value and potential of robotics in their operation and are actively involved in working to make use of this amazing technology. Each industry has its own sets of challenges and problems to solve and we have found that innovators in the field of robotics are identifying these challenges and working to solve them.
For example, non-value adding movement in a warehouse or fulfillment operation has been the biggest source of waste in these environments. Many robotics vendors have built out autonomous mobile robots designed specifically for this purpose. This particular use case enables organizations to improve productivity, efficiency, and scalability while at the same time reducing cost and risk (in our recent survey we asked the degree to which robots improved these metrics where deployed and the response was very impressive). In these environments, users of robots are finding that they are able to redeploy their people to focus on tasks that are better suited to the ingenuity, creativity, and physical skills of their people by relieving them of the dull, repetitive, and often dangerous task of pushing material from one place to another. Another example of robotics taking on a task is the process of on-shelf inventory management in the retail store. Again, a mobile application, but one that requires a very different set of capabilities and technology to deliver value for the user. Even the process of inspecting holding tanks and pipelines in the oil & gas industry is an example of where robots are adding value by taking on a very specific set of tasks that are beneficial to both the enterprise and the employees.
What does this all mean?
We are at the very beginnings of a transformative period that is reshaping how people work. Increasingly, new use cases for robots are emerging and taking on new tasks across industries, giving human workers opportunities to evolve their job descriptions and work less on repetitive physical tasks, taking on more dynamic and thoughtful tasks. As robotic technology continues to evolve, and the market increases its level of use of robotics, the way people work and the job landscape will change, as has always been the case when new technology emerges to take on some work-related tasks.