February 16, 2017      

The global service robotics market will increase from $3.7 billion in 2015 to around $15 billion in 2020, according to an IHS Markit Ltd. report published last fall. The London-based financial services company also noted that industrial automation and service robots are going their separate ways.

In 2015, industrial robot revenue totaled around $10 billion, said “The World Market for Service Robots and Drones — 2016 Edition.” IHS predicted that the industrial market will experience a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 18 percent and reach $24 billion in 2020, growing at a CAGR of 18%

By contrast, the report said that the service robotics market will grow much faster than that for traditional industrial robots.

Business Takeaways:

  • The market for industrial automation is well-established, but IHS Technology expects the service robotics market to grow nearly as quickly.
  • Robots in factories and warehouses are becoming cheaper and more efficient, but social robots have greater demands for intelligence and human-robot interaction.
  • Customer-facing robots will be more capable, thanks to machine learning and the cloud, as they evolve away from their industrial cousins.

Industrial automation focuses on ‘better, cheaper, faster’

The traditional mass-production manufacturing model, as exemplified by Volkswagen in automobile production and Foxconn in electronics assembly, will continue for a long time. Industrial robots are perfect for this model.

Like other factory machinery, robots in this model are fixed in location and are programmed to execute specific tasks. These robots essentially must be efficient, accurate, and reliable.

Although some industrial robots will become more intelligent, most manufacturers are under pressure to use industrial automation to help them do things “better, cheaper, and faster.”

Service robots become more intelligent, friendly, mobile

The manufacturing industry is changing because of increasing demand for more customized or personalized products. In order to shorten distance and time to market and be flexible enough for custom production of small batches, some manufacturers are looking to transform their plants.

The service robotics market and industrial automation include cobots.

Cobots such as KUKA’s iiwa straddle the advancements of industrial automation and service robotics.

Some industrial automation, particularly collaborative robots or cobots, is becoming “intelligent, friendly, and mobile.”

In addition, service and social robots that interact directly with people need to be able to work in dynamic and unstructured — i.e., unpredictable — environments.

This part of the service robotics market includes applications in various sectors such as logistics and supply chain, construction, agriculture, and customer service. Safety and the ease of human-robot interaction (HRI) are key.

As robotics developers and vendors have realized that there’s only so much intelligence that they can program into endpoint devices, they’ve turned to other emerging technologies. These include artificial intelligence, cloud computing, human-machine interfaces, and improving mobility.

  1. Learn with the support of AI, cloud and big data.

Many large companies are currently working to make robots (and self-driving cars) self-learning. For example, Google is training its six-axis robots to pick up objects of various shapes and materials.

These robots are not pre-programmed for specific objects, and their failure rate is high when encountering a new object. However, they are able to learn from each failure and try to find the right strategy to pick up the object next time. The robot can also share its experiences with other robots via the cloud.

FANUC, partnering with GPU chipset supplier Nvidia, trains robots to learn how to pick up randomly positioned objects through a process of trial and error.

FANUC offers AI services to continually improve the operational efficiency of robots, minimize downtime by pre-scheduling maintenance, and optimize robot movements by analyzing vision system and sensor data.

  1. Easy, safe, and friendly human-machine interface

Collaborative robots exist between traditional industrial automation and the service robotics market. They are more intelligent and user-friendly than robots that require safety enclosures.

Many established robotics vendors have added cobots to their product lines, such as YuMi from ABB, LBR iiwa from KUKA, APAS assistant from Bosch, and the CR-35iA from FANUC.

The rising and best-known co-worker robot makers are pure-play. Examples include the UR Series from Universal Robots, as well as Sawyer and Baxter from Rethink Robotics.

IHS forecasts that the market for collaborative robots will grow the fastest of all industrial robot types, from $108 million in 2015 to $570 million in 2020. While cobots are not as efficient or accurate when compared with their traditional industrial counterparts, they have the advantages of being safer, more mobile, more flexible, space-saving, and easy to install and deploy.

Service robots must take into account human-robot interactions or human-machine interactions (HMI). An understanding of HRI or HMI will help the development of more natural interfaces to allow people to operate complex robotic systems.

In addition, designs that incorporate HMI, machine learning, and advanced sensors will be able to understand their environments better.

Machine learning and the cloud are also enabling improvements in speech recognition, the most promising technology for HRI.

More on the Service Robotics Market:

  1. Ease of movement

Autonomous navigation and mobility is another critical difference between older industrial robots and newer, intelligent robots. In addition to the flexibility and productivity that mobile robots provide within a factory or warehouse, different form factors open up various environments and applications.

For the purposes of this discussion, this includes remotely operated and unmanned vehicles and drones on land, in the water, in the air, and in space.

For instance, wheeled and tracked robots, such as cleaning robots from iRobot or Ecovacs, can adapt well within a semi-structured and semi-predictable environment.

Download: IHS-Markit-Professional-Service-Robots-Infographic-Dec2016

Factories, warehouses, and e-commerce order fulfilment have been the earliest and largest applications of mobile robots to date. Many industry giants have stepped into this area by acquiring mobile robot companies, such as KUKA acquiring Swisslog, Amazon acquiring Kiva, and Omron acquiring Adept.

Humanoid and legged robots — such as Boston Dynamic’s Atlas, Honda’s Asimo, and Schaft — are suitable for the unstructured and human-centric environments.

While all robotics applications have been benefiting from cheaper sensors, more use cases, and increasing connectivity (all connected the Internet of Things), we believe that industrial automation and the service robotics market are increasingly diverging.

Factories and warehouses need better, cheaper, and faster robots, while the service robotics market is going the way of greater intelligence, user-friendliness, and improved mobility. These intelligent robots can also take advantage of the support of AI, the cloud, and big data.