New Era of Industrial Robotics-Startups

New Era of Industrial Robotics-Startups

Joe Martinez, Director, Robotics & Automation, Unilever

Joe Martinez, Director, Robotics & Automation, Unilever

Robotics startups are launching solutions to assist manufacturers in overcoming labor challenges, competing globally, and delivering long-term business value.

Recent technological advancements and novel approaches have created an opportunity for entrepreneurs and investors to address this mismatch and alter the role of automation. The startup and venture capital ethos have permeated industrial robotics. Entrepreneurs and innovators are now addressing the technological, economic, and human capital constraints that have historically limited automation to a limited number of manufacturers and manufacturing processes. If successful, some of these efforts will significantly increase the accessibility and applicability of industrial automation.

Automation Levels on the Low

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Automation in manufacturing as a whole continues to be low. Considering that 345 million people work on factory floors worldwide, but industrial robots have an installed base of only 2.7 million units. To make a meaningful dent in this statistic, innovators accelerate progress in three critical areas: high-speed programming paradigms, sensor-driven autonomy, and mobility.

Bottleneck in Programming

The declining cost of hardware is a factor in the increased and widespread adoption of robotics. Alternatives to traditional robotic hardware are emerging, with the majority coming from China. Additionally, there has been a prototype shift in the affordability of sensors for robotic perception. However, robotics market expansion will be constrained as long as one fact remains true: the cost of programming robots is significantly higher than the hardware itself. Much of the impediment to manufacturing automation is due to limitations in industrial robotics' current programming model. Programming is carried out in proprietary languages developed by each robotic hardware OEM – languages that are "straight out of the 1980s," as one industry executive put it. A small number only speaks these languages of specialists. Due to the scarcity of the required expertise and the time required to program a robot, robotics application development typically values three times as much as the hardware necessary for a given installation.

Barriers of Skill and Cost

To overcome the skill and cost barrier associated with robotics programming, startups are investigating a variety of models for programming a robot without using code, or at the very least without using programming languages from the 1980s.

These platforms identify and abstract standard building blocks from code into higher-level representations that can be manipulated and connected via graphical, drag-and-drop interfaces.

While not a solution for most composite applications, no-code platforms have made simple application development accessible to professionals without extensive software development training, allowing experienced developers to create applications more quickly.

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