It’s generally well acknowledged within the business community that robots are here to stay and that they’ll continue to have a profound and positive impact on industry and society as we enter into this new era of unprecedented change. Several companies are already realising success with robotics, others are just starting their robotics journey. But, how do you get commercially successful robotic products into service whilst mitigating the risks, and optimising your chances of success?
The robot renaissance
A global paradigm shift is looming upon us, with every industry opening up to both the global opportunity and subsequent disruption that comes hand-in-hand with robotics and automation innovation.
If we take a step back for a moment and take a look at the impact robotics has had in industry throughout 2017 – it can be seen most clearly through the recent inflection point in e-commerce. Companies like Amazon and Ocado are now delivering products at an unprecedented rate, something like 500 packages per second, and growing.
Our work with Ocado exemplifies the productivity potential of a commercially optimised robotic system. What once took 2.5 hours for a human to pick 50 items (the average weekly shop) now takes Ocado just under 5 minutes thanks to the thousands of swarming robots operating across the Ocado Smart Platform. This step change in capability has allowed Ocado to build their same day delivery model, which has changed the status-quo of online food retailing – forever.
The more we’ve relied on online shopping, the more retailers like Ocado have relied on robots to deliver those products to us. Robots shuttling SKU’s of goods around warehouses. Other robots scanning barcodes to do inventory control. And, increasingly, robotic arms doing what once only humans could; Sorting through a vast array of oddly-shaped objects to compile large orders.
While automating parts of e-commerce processes makes order fulfilment cheaper for e-retailers and consumers, it’s also fuelling a robotic renaissance that is starting to have implications far beyond the warehouse.
The now ubiquitous nature of robotics means that we don’t have to look very far to find a role for these intelligent mechanised machines in our own organisations, the possibilities are limitless;
- Robots are being created to exploit our agricultural land more effectively – reducing the environmental impact of agricultural machinery whilst increasing yield and lowering input costs.
- Advanced robots are entering logistics fulfilment warehouses, sorting centres and even helping with last mile delivery.
- In hospitals, robots are working with nurses to transport meals and medicines to patients without delay.
- Robots are being designed to remove dangerous landmines and support recovery from natural disasters in ways that would be too risky for human beings.
- Robots are entering our fast food chains to improve employee productivity and automate non-value add activities.
- Robots are being developed for our brick-and-mortar retail outlets – to improve customer experience and counteract the disruption of e-commerce.
- Robots are working together with factory employees to assemble goods around the world with higher quality and at lower cost.
- Personal robots are available to help us around our homes by mowing the lawn, watering the garden, and vacuuming the living room.
It’s becoming clear that robots are no longer confined to their cages, carrying out brute-force tasks – a new breed of robot is starting to emerge, one that’s more advanced, more nuanced – and more collaborative.
Rise of the robot
Languishing productivity levels, industry labour deficits, the rising cost of employment, and evolving consumer expectations are only a handful of the industrial and economic factors driving the need to develop and deploy more robotic and automated hardware across nearly every vertical market.
Over the course of 2017, there has been an exceptionally high number of special mentions about robotics and their link to salvaging our poor productivity growth and providing economic respite. From the FT to the Industrial strategy white paper, the Made Smarter Review and everything in between – all highlighting the importance of this emerging sector in supporting our global economy to prosper.
With a holistic drive for the UK to lead the 4th industrial revolution as we did the 1st, the future, and robotic technology’s role within that is becoming incredibly exciting.
But, how do you get commercially successful robotic products into service whilst mitigating the risks, and optimising your chances of success?
The answer lies in the approach that you take…
Creating robots that deliver…
Developing robotic products requires a similar approach to that used when creating new products for new markets – a progressive approach. Both (New-products-in-new-markets and robotics) come with an abundance of market and technology uncertainties, and both have unbounded potential to disrupt industry and generate unprecedented commercial returns.
Despite the risks involved with developing and launching robotic products, we’re instinctively drawn to them for their potential to drive growth, profits and shareholder value. But the fact of the matter is, robotics reaps such handsome rewards because they’re inherently risky to develop.
To counteract the risk, it’s important that the robotic products created today are made in a way that generates commercial payback now. That often means peeling back layers of intelligence (from that fully autonomous vision of the future) so that the cost-performance of the product meets the needs and expectations of industry – today.
These first minimal viable smart machines should work collaboratively with humans to significantly increase their productivity and provide a platform to figure out the most appropriate next step and learn all the things you didn’t know about the product’s use case or intended market.
Once a minimal viable product has been delivered and is paying back, the next iterations can be developed and deployed with increasing layers of intelligence such that each derivative machine can take on additional complex tasks. The development time, risk and cost associated with each successive machine can be drastically reduced by leveraging the shared assets and understanding established by its predecessor.
Whilst a lot of big businesses are catching the attention of the media for their interest in robotics, the ability to develop robots isn’t confined to large global businesses who can handle the consequences of taking such dramatic risks. We’ve found that by taking a progressive approach to developing robotics, any sized business can reduce the risk and optimise the chance of commercial success for any robotic product.
Through developing robotic products for some of the world’s most innovative organisations Tharsus has amassed a powerful network of suppliers and academic partners, which we leverage to develop our partners amazing robotic product’s, quickly at the lowest risk. If you can see the opportunities for robotics in your business or you want to exploit a market opportunity – we’d love to hear your story.
If you’d like to talk to us about how robots can transform your business, contact our Robotics and Autonomous Systems Market Lead directly at: John.Hannah@tharsus.co.uk.