Technology for MSMEs: For decades, our movies have imagined robots in multiple ways. From the cute C3PO of Star Wars to a muscular Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator, we have imagined robots in a variety of ways. Just as how the SciFi things show in StarTrek, for instance, computers and video conversations have come to reality, a lot of the robotics ideas too are soon getting to reality. The robotics revolution is going to be nothing smaller than a PC industry revolution that rocked the world in the 1980s and 90s. Over 100 large software companies got created and a million other companies became a part of the ecosystem doing development, testing, deployment, maintenance, training, support etc. We see a similar push over the 1920s. Here is the quick comparison of the two revolutions.
There are many sub-industries within the robotics industry. There is the healthcare robotics industry including surgical robots that many startups in the industry could use to deliver quality care to patients, manage patient data and assist doctors in the procedures. There is the logistics robotics category that could become the largest sub-category within robotics. It is primarily centred around moving goods. Those things could happen within a warehouse to enable e-commerce companies to quickly dispatch the items you have ordered, within minutes of ordering. These robots are also increasingly becoming outbound to make sure the last-mile delivery is taken care of. One of the biggest cost of buying online is the cost of delivering to your home. While big players have been taking on a loss at this stage to let you not see the full cost of seeing products at your doorstep, the long term survival of home deliveries will depend on robots.
The third category is going to be household robots that will grow from doing simple vacuuming to a lot of household chores, including cooking and cleaning. They will also become a key companion for an ageing population. The final category is going to be service robots in restaurants, office. malls and airports. These will primarily be the humanoids. Coming to humanoids, the key advantage is going to be in delivering experience and empathy. Human beings are increasingly alone and devoid of many of the stimulations that the previous generations had. This puts the onus of delivering those experience and even empathy to the machines that are going to be around.
In our various experiments, we have noticed that the people would more likely to a humanoid than to an Alexa like speaker if they are looking for something more complicated than “Play Jazz music”. The ability to converse naturally over voice and providing empathy through fingers and eye express are very important in communication. We have noticed people’s attention and engagement going up when we put expressive eyes in place of static eyes. When we are using voice, we often expect cues and feedback that have been developed over thousands of years. When those visual cues are absent it becomes hard to have a long conversation. With humanoids, we are able to provide many of the visual cues that let the users see this like a near-human being and letting them use voice and hand gestures.
As retailers and grapple with the online services taking over their businesses, we see more of them looking forward to innovating and focusing on the experience just as as the multiplexes did since the late 1990s. At the core of this new experience is going to be intelligent beings that understand what you are looking to accomplish and help you in that. People implicitly tend to think that humanoids can understand them better than other machines.
One of the major market research firms has estimated the humanoid robot market will grow 20 times to about $4 billion in 2023. That is a huge growth and we estimate the market to be at least $25 billion by the end of the 2020s. This is going to create whole new opportunities. The primary factors to succeed with include being able to deliver empathy and being able to have enough intelligence to not let the visitors bored or let down. People tend to place higher expectations on the humanoids and that can also bring quick disappointment if the expectations don’t match reality.
(Balaji Viswanathan is the CEO at Invento Robotics. Views expressed are the author’s own.)