2019 Predictions from Robotics, Automation, and AI Industry Experts
December 13, 2018      

As the calendar winds down to the end of another year, the robotics industry continues to gear up for the next one, with expectations that it will be even bigger, faster, and more innovative than the last. Robotics Business Review canvassed industry leaders across the robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence landscape to provide us with their 2019 predictions. We’ve organized their predictions and quotes into several topic areas.

RBR editors Gene Demaitre and Keith Shaw will provide their own predictions in next week’s free webcast, “Looking Back, Looking Forward,” as well as another predictions article at the start of 2019. Stay tuned!

GENERAL ROBOTICS 2019 PREDICTIONS

Melonee Wise, Fetch Robotics Distribution Centers article

Melonee Wise, Fetch Robotics

Melonee Wise, CEO, Fetch Robotics:

“I honestly hope 2019 is the year of robot safety. I worry that the potential missteps of one robotics company could

set our industry back for years.”


Carl Vause, Soft Robotics

Carl Vause, CEO, Soft Robotics:

“The explosion of the collaborative robotics market continues. A few years ago, there were two collaborative robot suppliers. Now there is a proliferation, and the traditional industrial robot suppliers are providing collaborative solutions.”


Dan Patt Vecna Robotics 2019 predictions article

Dan Patt, Vecna Robotics

Dan Patt, CEO, Vecna Robotics:

“2019 will be the year that business historians today look back on as the pivotal moment between the companies that invested in a flexible future, and those that fought it.”


Chris Jones iRobot 2019 predictions

Chris Jones, iRobot

Chris Jones, CTO, iRobot:

“As consumers continue to adjust to smart devices in the home, there will be an increased call to action for companies to make devices “smarter” with technology that has a greater sense of spatial awareness in the home. For example, Alexa being able to understand its base is located in the kitchen but it’s been temporarily moved to the living room.”

 

ROBOTS AND THE CLOUD

Brian Gerkey, Open Robotics

Brian Gerkey, CEO and founder, Open Robotics:

“It’s been a number of years since James Kuffner talked about cloud robotics, but 2019 is shaping up as the year the industry is taking it seriously. Google and Amazon have thrown their hats in the ring with new services aimed at cloud-based development and deployment, plus lots of smaller companies in this space as well.”


Melonee Wise, Fetch Robotics:

“2018 was the year of the cloud, and Fetch has been at the forefront of cloud adoption and the benefits of a cloud-first approach — what we call on-demand automation. This past year, we’ve seen any resistance to this approach evaporate.”

 

EXPANDING MARKETS FOR ROBOTICS

Carl Vause, Soft Robotics:

“Traditionally, the growth and success of the industrial robot market has been closely tied to the automotive and electronics industries. That’s really starting to change. Over the past year, we have seen significant adoption and growth decouple from automotive as a result of growth in markets such as food and beverage, warehousing, and logistics.”


Thomas Ryden, MassRobotics

Thomas Ryden, executive director, MassRobotics:

“It is always hard to predict what will happen in this field. I would say the number of new startups in the robotics space formed in 2019 will increase significantly over 2018. The increased capabilities of cloud-based support of robotics, like AWS RoboMaker, will allow for faster development, better simulation, and simpler testing, making it easier for new startups to capitalize on their ideas and enter the space. I also believe next year will be a big one for the warehouse logistics robots. I think many of the beta trials will convert over to large-scale purchases for many of the startups in the area.”


HighRes Biosolutions Peter Harris photo

Peter Harris, CEO of HighRes Biosolutions

Peter Harris, CEO, HighRes Biosolutions:

“More laboratory devices and processes will be iterated to become automation-ready, enabling the integration of processes like chromatography, mass spec, and bioreactors, which historically have lived outside the automation integration continuum. In addition, we will begin to see the first real attempts at useful mobile robotics in the lab space.”

“Early mobile efforts will be quite limited in actual utility, as today’s mobile robots are good at moving, but bad at ‘doing.’ It will take some time before mobile lab robots are capable of performing actual lab tasks in any meaningful way, but their eventuality will be influential on system architecture before they get here. Expect automation architecture to continue toward movable and modular forms over static installations, embracing the long-term mobile potential.”

 

DRONES FOR INDUSTRY

Francis Vierboom, Propeller

Francis Vierboom, co-founder and CEO, Propeller:

“Drones are going to fly a lot more on serious commercial surveying tasks in construction and the resources industry, where high-precision accuracy is required. We’ve seen teams doing it for years, but DJI’s release of the Phantom 4 RTK takes that option right into the mainstream. Drone surveying goes from a bit of a tricky, error-prone process to an amazingly simple one that also touts high-precision accuracy, which is critical for pragmatic adoption by busy folks on fast-moving sites.”

 

HYPE BUBBLES POPPING?

Francis Carden, Pegasystems 2019 predictions

Francis Carden, Pegasystems

Francis Carden, VP, robotics and transformation, Pegasystems:

“The overhyped ‘RPA bubble’ will finally burst in 2019, as users enter the RPA ‘trough of disillusionment.’ After being told RPA is a cure-all for digital transformation and process inefficiencies, 2019 will be an important inflection point that shows it’s not right for every situation, doesn’t scale, and can be hard to deploy.”


Robert Wells, Softvision 2019 predictions article

Robert Wells, Softvision

Robert Wells, VP of strategy, Softvision, part of Cognizant Digital Engineering

“The convergence of RPA and AI will gain speed. Organizations are going to automate manual, repetitive processes and gain new efficiencies. With these early wins, enterprises will start to envision how they can replace human judgment with digital workers. This shift in 2019 will force bots to utilize natural language processing, optical character recognition, intelligent character recognition, and machine learning technologies.”


Neil Kinson Redwood Software

Neil Kinson, Redwood Software

Neil Kinson, chief of staff, Redwood Software:

“After early exploration and investments with limited ROI to show, the hype and myths that surround AI are evaporating. 2019 will see businesses give themselves a reality check on AI and set more realistic and meaningful expectations for their return on investment.”

“While chatbots have become increasingly prevalent in customer service and internal processes, predictive analytics and machine learning, amongst other technologies, have also come to fall under the AI umbrella. As this definition expands, and artificial intelligence becomes more closely aligned with augmented intelligence, 2019 will see businesses uncover and implement more AI use cases that bring tangible, measurable value to their organizations.”

 

AI CONVERGENCE AND IMPACT

Jeff Burnstein, president, Association for Advancing Automation (A3):

“I’m keeping a close eye on the convergence of AI, robotics, and machine vision, and I expect to see some interesting offerings at the intersection of these three technologies.”


Hanns Tappeiner Anki 2019 predictions article

Hanns Tappeiner, Anki

Hanns Tappeiner, co-founder and president, Anki:

“In light of the pace of innovation, 2030 will be remarkably different from 2020, particularly in the robotics and AI space. When reading the news, it can feel like AI is already taking over our lives, but the truth is that AI has yet to make an impact on 99% of the various industry sectors or our daily lives. However, this will change exponentially over the next 10 years.”


Dan Patt, Vecna Robotics:

“Autonomous vehicles are a critical element for future success, but they alone will not keep you ahead of the competition. Success belongs to companies that invest in workflows, not just robots. Specifically, workflows powered by AI, technology, and services that enable flexibility and process changes on demand — allowing you to coordinate people, facilities, and machines around your real-time needs.”

 

DISTRIBUTED AI AND THE EDGE

Ashish Jain GE Ventures 2019 predictions

Ashish Jain, GE Ventures

Ashish Jain, managing director of data sciences, GE Ventures:

“Robotics and AI are increasingly used hand in hand to inspect and ensure the proper functioning of critical infrastructure that our society is built on — power lines, railroad tracks, flare stacks, etc. Next year, the convergence of these two technologies is poised to accelerate, with 2019 serving as a breakout year for distributed AI, in which intelligence will decentralize and be embedded closer to the assets and devices carrying out the inspections.”

“Today’s cloud systems that remotely control Industrial IoT and AI — often at significant distances from inspection sites — will begin transitioning to distributed and autonomous systems closer to the source of inspections, making inspection data collection more efficient and safer.”


Guneed Bedi relayr 2019 predictions article

Guneed Bedi, relayr

Guneet Bedi, general manager, Americas, relayr:

“The ‘Big Data Era’ has generally created a whole lot of … data. Without the appropriate context and robust analysis to identify key insights and business opportunities, massive amounts of data mean nothing. Artificial intelligence is the key to unlocking new levels of insight, but only if it is implemented correctly. Edge computing will become more critical to decrease dependency on constant connectivity, speed up actionable data analytics, and deliver critical insights directly at the device level.”

 

INDUSTRY 4.0 BECOMES MORE REAL

David Brown TE Connectivity 2019 predictions article

Davy Brown, TE Connectivity

Davy Brown, VP and CTO, TE Connectivity:

“Next year, we will continue to see the progression of Industry 4.0 evolve from a topic of industry forums to full-fledged reality. Easy-to-install sensors – particularly those that do not always need to be installed inside equipment such as audio or video capture systems – will become a critically important part of the connected factory of the future.”

“Because machine learning software relies on reliable, timely information from the environment it is monitoring, it requires a large number of high-precision sensors, connected to a reliable communications network. This will require new high-speed networking infrastructure in the factory that does not follow the typical control topology of a manufacturing execution system connected to multiple programmable logic controllers. Instead, it will require connectivity that must support data center speeds, in the confined cabling space available in a typical factory environment.”


Jeff Wehner Haven 2019 predictions article

Jeff Wehner, Haven

Jeff Wehner, co-founder and COO, Haven Inc.:

“Increased investments by VCs will focus on startups solving manufacturing problems with IoT and big data. Manufacturing, supply chain, and logistics have historically been categorized as ‘unsexy’ industries; a world fallen behind as everyone else innovates. However, there has been a rebirth of the unsexy industry, and that trend will continue and accelerate in 2019.”

“In addition to having large total available markets — which VCs love — macroeconomic factors such as uncertain tariffs or economic slowdowns will mean that supply chains will have to do more with less and be as nimble as possible. The way to accomplish that is through technology, and the old incumbents don’t make good technology. Also, a changing demographic shift means young, bright engineers don’t want to go work for large corporate behemoths. They’re happy bringing their fresh ideas into higher-risk ventures.”


Guneet Bedi, relayr:

“As the manufacturing industry becomes increasingly open to the idea of digitalization, we will see more companies empowered to implement fully interoperable IoT solutions to achieve their target business goals. As a result, they will play a larger role in the services aftermarket – while offering their customers opportunities to reduce time-to-market, purchasing costs, and shift capital expenditures [capex] to operating expenditures [opex]. IoT isn’t just about gaining production insights. These new opportunities for manufacturing will help shape the next industrial revolution.”


Dan Patt, Vecna Robotics:

“In 2019, change won’t come from shiny new hardware, it will come from creating operational flexibility. The highest fulfillment rates come from dynamically coordinating your work processes — having the operational insight and communication level to reorder and reallocate responsibilities among diverse resources or groups of resources based on skill sets, accessibility, and level of demand.”

 

HOUSEHOLD AND CONSUMER ROBOTICS

Zhe Zhang Trifo 2019 predictions article

Zhe Zhang, Trifo

Zhe Zhang, CEO and founder, Trifo Robotics:

“The smartphone will continue to drive the consumer electronics industry, and the sensors that power smartphone innovations will be utilized in home robotics as well.”

“Multiple categories of current home electronics – including robotics – will converge into fewer robot form factors with more integrated functionalities.”


Brian Gerkey, Open Robotics:

“While we said goodbye to Jibo and Kuri in 2018, I see the industry getting closer to figuring out robots for the consumer market in 2019.”


Chris Jones, iRobot:

“Day-to-day life will become more efficient as devices automate and coordinate chores and other tasks. More ‘thoughtful’ smart home devices will have a better sense of consumer preferences and patterns and go well beyond simply reciting the day’s calendar or stating a general weather update. From customized home ‘mood profiles’ for waking up and getting out of the door in the morning, to multiple robots springing to action as an owner backs out of the driveway, the Smart Home 2.0 will begin to take shape in 2019.”

 

SELF-DRIVING CARS, DRONES

Shaoshan Liu Perceptin 2019 predictions article

Shaoshan Liu, Perceptin

Shaoshan Liu, CEO of PerceptIn:

“As the driverless car race speeds up, it is still unclear which companies will win the race of becoming the major suppliers for driverless car solutions. For instance, we have more than 30 lidar manufacturers in the world, racing to become the “default” lidar technology supplier for driverless cars, with no clear leaders yet. Same story for radar, computer vision, and high-definition map suppliers. Although traditional Tier 1 suppliers have a competitive edge, more and more newcomers are continuously bringing new innovations and technologies. I expect to see more investments and potential acquisitions going into different sensor and component categories in 2019. By the end of 2019, we may see a few leaders emerging in the supply chain.”


Francis Vierboom, Propeller:

“2019 is do-or-die time for drone delivery. The biggest competitor to flying robots bringing you tacos is rolling robots bringing you tacos – and driverless cars are poised to get more real as Waymo launches into public usage. If the robot cars roll out, it will leave a much narrower road to market for drones – literally the one with no roads. Focusing on regions without road infrastructure makes sense while the technology is still establishing itself, and it could have a fantastic impact in developing countries and poverty-stricken areas. But realistically, it also makes it very difficult to maintain as a sustainable, profitable business.”


Hans Tappeiner, Anki:

“Autonomous cars are old news at this point. We’re past the hype cycle, and valuations for companies in the space are dropping as people, once again, are realizing that the whole thing is much harder than it seemed two years ago. Today, nobody would be willing to pay $1 billion for an autonomous car startup.”

 

ROBOTICS DEVELOPMENT

Brian Gerkey, Open Robotics:

“A recent development that we expect to grow in 2019 is increased industry participation in the development of ROS 2. Companies like Amazon, Intel, Microsoft, LG, and more are participating in the recently formed ROS 2 Technical Steering Committee. They putting their own engineering efforts into open-source contributions at the core of the project.”

 

THE IMPACT OF ROBOTICS ON THE WORLD

Carl Vause, Soft Robotics

“China bought more than half of all robots sold in the first half of 2018, and there are no signs of slowing down.”


Hans Tappeiner, Anki:

“The biggest threat to the U.S. and Europe is the rapid advances in AI coming out of China. China is undoubtedly an AI juggernaut, and it will completely outmaneuver the West if we’re not careful. Why? Because the success of AI is tied to the availability of massive amounts of organized data. In China, it is socially acceptable to trade private, personal information for small amounts of monetary value/perks. For better or for worse, this gives companies who operate in the country a massive advantage over companies here. If we want to compete, we need a solution to the data problem, and fast.”


Jeff Burnstein, A3:

“It’s starting already, but I hope to see a continuing shift away from the narrative of “robots as job killers” to an understanding that robots will be net job creators and that we need to better prepare our workforce for the jobs of the future.”


Neil Kinson, Redwood Software:

“The hype around job loss from automation and AI is a constant in everyday rhetoric, but I have not yet seen the dramatic onslaught of unemployment that has been supposedly imminent for years now. This will not change in 2019. Job numbers for white-collar workers will not see any major fluctuations, despite new tech developments and innovations. This is largely because of efforts to reskill and upskill employees whose roles are subject to change. Businesses will reinvest in their human staff to continue deriving value from them. In practice, this will mean less mundane and manual work for employees, replaced with more creative and people-oriented activities.”

“At the same time, it is important to note that some industries are not impervious to technological innovation. Efforts to maintain and grow industries that are no longer modern like coal mining or call centers will continue to prove unsustainable. This is not only because of tech like automation, but directly correlates with a shifting economic landscape globally. As another industrial revolution inevitably unfolds, the trend towards upskilling will hopefully extend into the blue-collar workforce in 2019.”

 

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