Experts Predict the Future of Robotics 2019 – Life Changing Events

What can we expect in robotics in 2019? Our first predictions roundup was so popular that more industry leaders felt compelled to weigh in with their prognostications.

Can collaborative robots get more precise? Could robotics save retail stores? And what do the Internet of Things and quantum computing mean for autonomous systems and artificial intelligence? Some of the experts told Robotics Business Review that they expect exoskeletons to serve both high-end uses requiring precision and low-end ones for workers and possibly even consumers.

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One of the questions we’ve been asked most often at holiday parties is, “What do you think of self-driving cars?” This is usually followed by a statement of whether or not the questioner trusts the technology, but the responses below paint a more complex picture, involving insurance, regulators, and truck drivers.

As we wrap up our coverage for the year and look ahead to robotics in 2019, be sure to share your own observations on social media such as LinkedInTwitter, or Facebook.

Here are the expert opinions (edited for length):

Cobot arms, grippers, and flexible apps

Jurgen von Hollen Universal Robots

Jurgen von Hollen, Universal Robots

Jürgen von Hollen, president, Universal Robots:

“In 2019, we expect that companies will have to continue to deal with significant changes driven by customers, markets, and geopolitical circumstances. This will require businesses to adjust and adapt quickly to these demands. Investments in automation, enabling companies to become more flexible and ultimately deliver more value to their customers, will be the key to their success.”

Enrico Krog Inversen, CEO, OnRobot:

Enrico Iversen, CEO of OnRobot

Enrico Iversen, CEO of OnRobot

“As the collaborative robot market continues to deliver double-digit growth figures, this trailblazing development in industrial automation presents a new reality where the cobot arm is fast becoming a commodity, as real innovation now happens in the end-of-arm-tooling realm.”

“In order to support this growth, we need to reduce the deployment time of the cobots so manufacturers can deploy more robots with the same staff. As we look to the future, intelligent end-of-arm tools with seamless integration will become even more crucial in enabling collaborative applications.”

Thomas Visti, CEO, Mobile Industrial Robots

Teradyne buys Mobile Industrial Robots photo of Thomas Visti

Thomas Visti, CEO, Mobile Industrial Robots (MiR)

“The future is collaborative and mobile. We will see human-robot collaboration continue to develop. Cobots will be used efficiently in an even higher degree in repetitive, dangerous, and precise tasks, while their human colleagues are responsible for things such as quality checks and programming.”

“We will see mobile robots in more applications, and we will see how mobility will be combined with industrial robot arms like mobile conveyor belts are already used within many industries.”

“Another important trend is the use of AI in robotics. For our autonomous mobile robots, that means they will be able to differentiate between different obstacles, so they will react differently depending on whether they are encountering people, electric pallet trucks, or other robots.”


Retail robotics in 2019

Brad Bogolea, CEO, Simbe Robotics

Brad Bogolea Simbe Robotics RFID Scanning article

Brad Bogolea, Simbe Robotics CEO and co-founder

“Physical and digital will continue to blend for in-store environments with the help of tech like robotics. When it comes to retail, brick and mortar has been reinventing itself so shoppers feel like they are getting e-commerce level efficiency in a physical store. This type of omnichannel transition has long been under way with additions like self-checkout and on-demand services like grocery delivery. In 2019, stores will continue to embrace advanced technology such as robotics to keep up with this high-paced demand.”

“Data + cloud technology will become more popular and help companies pull ahead. 2019 will have more opportunities than ever to harness such insights.”

“Companies will continue to invest heavily in advanced tech to keep the consumer first. For example, robots are enhancing the customer experience with in-store optimizations that ensure products are not misplaced, out of stock, or incorrectly priced.”


Moving from prove-out to rollout

Bruce Welty, chairman, Locus Robotics

Bruce Welty, chairman, Locus Robotics

Bruce Welty, founder and chairman, Locus Robotics

“Clearly, the robotics industry has seen its fair share of successes and failures in 2018. We expect 2019 to be the year that robotic companies see significant success in the ‘robot friendly’ markets where robots are currently adding value to their customers, such as autonomous mobile robots, or AMRs, in warehouses. There remains much excitement about the potential of grasping systems and autonomous cars, and we expect to see continued acceleration in that space, but the market opportunity remains a ways off as these participants try to move from the prove-out to the rollout phase.


Connected autonomy

David Mindell, CEO, Humatics Corp.

David Mindell, CEO of Humatics

David Mindell, CEO of Humatics

“2019 will be the year that autonomous systems learn to connect to their environments. Gone is the idea that robots can navigate alone, that they can localize without connecting to the world. This philosophy has limited the advance of mobile robots in factories and autonomous cars.”

“Instead, 2019 will see the rapid takeoff of hybrid navigation, where the onboard systems are augmented by inexpensive sensors in the environment to enable entirely new levels of precision, robustness, and safety. Whether it’s talking to a small, lightbulb-sized sensor on a ceiling or to a sensor embedded in a street light, robots and autonomous vehicles will cooperate in beautiful, precise choreography — getting their jobs done with great precision and efficiency.”


Exoskeletons for multiple jobs

Joseph Zawaideh, vice president of marketing and business development, Levitate Technologies

“We expect exoskeletons to be deployed at many major industrial companies in large numbers. In the next five years, the upper-extremity exoskeleton will become a standard part of the “personal protection equipment” family. You put on your safety glasses, safety gloves, and exoskeleton and go on with your work.”

Joseph Zawaideh, VP of marketing and business development at Levitate Technologies

“Exoskeletons will also become an essential component of lean manufacturing in terms of employee productivity. Future workstations will have an exoskeleton included just like the chair or assembly tool.”

“Workers’ compensation third-party administrators and providers will play a big role in the deployment of exoskeletons. We also expect passive exoskeletons to become available to the average consumer and not just industrial employees — also in the next five years.”

“Exoskeletons will continue to get more practical by being lighter, more functional, and more comfortable. Different designs will address different kinds of jobs, and accessories will play a big role in the future of exoskeletons. There will be a high end with extra features for surgeons, for example. In addition, we expect to see low-end exoskeletons priced lower and possibly available at big-box stores.”

“Exoskeletons will integrate with IoT by monitoring the musculoskeletal systems of professionals and skilled trade workers. Real-time data analytics from sensors on the exoskeleton and sensors on the muscles being supported by the exoskeleton will provide tools for employers to improve the health and productivity of their employees.”


Deep learning and AI to get faster, clearer

Dejan Milojicic, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise distinguished technologist and past president of the IEEE Computer Society

“In 2019, we expect to see ever-increasing adoption of deep learning accelerators in the areas of transportation, advanced security, and technologies for humanity. Fueled by advanced materials, adoption of virtual reality and the Internet of Bodies will stretch the future to new unknowns.”

John Smith, IBM fellow, manager of AI tech, IBM Research

“Causal modeling will make AI more human. While human intuition is integral to our everyday actions and judgments, it does not compute for a machine. Most of our AI methods today are fundamentally based on correlations and lack a deep understanding of causality. Emerging causal inference methods allow us to infer causal structures from data, to efficiently select interventions to test putative causal relationships, and to make better decisions by leveraging knowledge of causal structure. In 2019, these improvements in causal modeling techniques will help advance AI closer to human-level intelligence and bring a new level of insight into how we manage business processes, interpret simulations, and develop new drugs and materials.”

John Smith, IBM fellow

John Smith, IBM fellow and manager of AI tech at IBM Research

“Trusted AI will begin opening AI’s ‘black box.’ AI’s progress has been slowed because people don’t trust what they see as a black box. This year, a number of organizations established ethics advisory boards, promoted AI for social good, and introduced tools to give organizations confidence in their ability to understand and manage AI systems. In 2019, we’ll begin to see the fruit of these early efforts, as they become central to how companies build, train, and deploy AI technologies. We expect to see special focus on transferring research advances into real products and platforms. An emphasis on encouraging diversity and inclusion on technical teams will ensure that many perspectives guide technological progress.”

“Quantum computing will accelerate scaling of AI. In 2019, we’ll see accelerated traction in quantum experimentation and research, and new research on how quantum computing can play a role in training and running AI models. As the complexity of AI problems grows, quantum computing — which thousands of organizations already access via IBM’s cloud quantum computing services –could change how we approach AI computational tasks and help speed its deployment.”


Driverless vehicles: Computing on the edge, truckers’ concerns, and insurance and legislation

Dominic Wellington, global IT evangelist, Moogsoft

Dominic Wellington

Dominic Wellington, global IT Evangelist, Moogsoft

“Ingesting and analyzing the vast amount of data generated by connected cars will continue to be a major challenge for the IT department. Applying AI and machine learning [ML] in the cloud will be a crucial step for the overall success of future innovations, especially when it comes to heavily automated vehicles. As these vehicles are expected to make in-the-moment decisions with limited or no human intervention, latency issues will be the tallest mountain to climb before we can deem the vehicles safe.”

“Edge computing has quickly become a necessity for automated driving systems. For example, by applying AI and ML to the ‘edge’ of the Internet by bringing a large part of it in-vehicle — and in-highway — latency issues can be avoided, or at least mitigated. As these intelligent vehicles absorb massive amounts of data through sensors, edge computing gives us the ability to reduce this data into only essential information, limiting what is being sent back and forth from the cloud and vehicle during operation.”

Jeremy Reymer, CEO of DriverReach

Jeremy Reymer, CEO of DriverReach

Jeremy Reymer, CEO of DriverReach

“Drivers view automated truck technology as an issue because they are worried about the impact it will have on their jobs. However, we are still 10 to 15 years away from seeing truly autonomous trucks make regular appearances on the road. Even once they arrive, they will still need drivers and operators, positions these drivers can fill.”

“Semi-autonomous technology continues to develop and advance, especially in new trucks. This will remain a focus, as it not only improves the driving experience, but also has the potential to significantly reduce crashes. The trucking industry recognizes the importance in having a seat at the table versus being on the outside looking in with regard to legislation around it.”

Scott McLaren, CMO of Fortegra

Scott McLaren, CMO of Fortegra

Scott McLaren, CMO of Fortegra

“While most of us have already experienced some version of vehicle autonomy, a truly driverless ride is likely still years away. From regulatory concerns to insurance liabilities, the risks associated with autonomous vehicles are real. While the U.S. is currently leading the way in autonomous vehicle development, we may want to look to Europe for a safety-first approach. Despite strides toward the future, the world still has a long way to go before every passenger can sit back, relax, and enjoy the automated experience.”

“As changes affect the auto industry and public infrastructure, insurance companies will need to adjust as well. When a self-driving car crashes, who’s to blame? The ‘driver’? The manufacturer? The dealer? To prepare, insurers should start having these conversations now — before they get left by the side of the road.”

“As major companies continue developing autonomous vehicles, there’s a potential major roadblock that could bring it all to a halt: government legislation. Even as we move closer to driverless cars, the reality is that most auto laws are outdated and could prevent this new technology from taking off.”


Robots move into new markets

Alex Fielding, interim CEO, Ripcord

Alex Fielding Ripcord

Alex Fielding, interim CEO, Ripcord

“2019 is the year that robots move beyond manufacturing, supply chain, and warehousing into the enterprise. Expect to see physical robots team up with software robots, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to find value in existing business data.”

“In the retail industry, expect to see robot salespeople aid shoppers in product discovery; in document-heavy industries such as financial services, legal, and healthcare, robots that digitize many thousand boxes of paper records in a single day; in the construction industry, robots that build walls 10 times faster with perfect safety records.”

Robert Doyle, vice president, Robotics Industry Association

Robert Doyle RIA

Robert Doyle, Robotics Industry Association

“[We will see the] continuing decoupling of the automotive and robotics industries. For decades, the success of the industrial robotics market was joined at the hip to the growth of the automotive market. That has started changing in recent years as other industries have accelerated the adoption of robots.”

“Traditionally, the automotive industry has accounted for over 60% of the North American market, but that number is down to 52% through September, with non-automotive orders at 48%, the closest these two segments have been in the history of RIA’s reporting that dates back to 1984.”

“Among the non-automotive industries that set new records were life sciences, food and consumer goods, plastics and rubber, and electronics. We believe that as robots have become more dexterous, safer, and available in a variety of form factors, they have become more appealing to new users in a wide variety of industries. We expect this to continue in 2019 and beyond.”

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