What yesterday’s tech innovations teach us about robotics today

Posted on 18 Jul 2023 by The Manufacturer

Technologies that are simple and automatic parts of everyday life - such as computers, automobiles, even the telephone and every tech innovation in between - were all transformational 'disruptors', creating new industries, segments and jobs, and making life easier.

When we step back and look at history, it’s clear that people use technologies to create jobs for people to do. Take the web or user-experience (UX) design profession for example. It simply didn’t exist until personal and business computers upended the graphic design industry with the advent of art, design and publishing software which eventually evolved into what we now know as UX or human-centred design, sparking new industries, jobs and careers along the way.

Like many of the much-loved tech transformers we depend on daily, such as a smartphone, I think robotics is also destined to expand and create a whole host of new services, industries and often upskilled opportunities that most of us can’t begin to imagine today. The World Economic Forum estimates that 97 million new roles (12 million net new) related to work between humans, robots and algorithms will emerge by 2025. And people will be needed to create, program, maintain and repair the robots that augment work for humans.

Robotics will create jobs and exceed at what they were designed to do: free people from the ‘dull, dirty and dangerous’ jobs and tasks that most people don’t want or need to do, to quote Jeff Burnstein, president of the Association for Advancing Automation (A3). The research backs him up.

Among decision-makers surveyed in Zebra’s Warehouse Vision Study, eight in 10 say a greater reliance on automation is in their future. Most associates who work alongside autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) today confirm they have helped increase productivity and reduce walking/travel time (83%), reduce errors (73%), and enable advancement to new roles or opportunities (65%). Similar findings were highlighted in a separate global study.

New Jobs of the Future

The labour shortage is real. Its impact across industries including manufacturing, retail and warehousing is prompting leaders to advance their adoption of technology, particularly automation. Of warehouse decision-makers surveyed who have already implemented automation, or plan to within the next three years, 66% say they are doing so to offset recruitment challenges. Retailers surveyed in Zebra’s Global Shopper Study said investing in automation is a top priority with 92% prioritising deployment of robots and automation solutions by 2027.

Robotic automation positively impacts efficiency and productivity, performing the more basic and repetitive tasks that don’t require human input. That can open the door to more roles, particularly types that require ’21st century skills’ including cognitive judgement calls and creativity – skills that only people can bring. As Steve Jobs, one the world’s biggest tech transformers said, “Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity, not a threat.”

What are some of these new, future jobs that robotics automation could spur? Robotics learning and development managers, specialist cleaning and sanitisation services for robots, and perhaps a new generation of architects and builders who design workplaces with a ‘human + robots’ first approach – the list goes on:

  • Robotic machinists and other automation technicians who maintain the machines or use them to perform new tasks.
  • Electromechanical, mechatronics and robotics technicians perform a variety of tasks including testing, operating, installing, maintaining and repairing robots and/or machinery and computer-controlled mechanical systems, generally in an industrial setting.
  • Clinical robot associates working alongside hospital staff and engineering teams to assist managing a fleet of robots, ensuring safe clinical use in hospital environments.
  • Robotics data analysts analyse large sets of data using artificial intelligence to make decisions, create business predictions or future trends, and feed analysis back into robotics automation solutions to optimise performance.

Looking back at every transformational technology throughout history, from the automobile to the computer and now robotics, it’s clear our tech innovations need humans – whether it’s to maintain, repair, operate, program, or create the next iteration or advancement. And with each tech move forward, we’re also creating new worlds of opportunity for new skills, jobs and careers.

Reach out to Stephan Pottel direct to talk more, and learn more about AMRs here.

About the author

Stephan Pottel: EMEA Practice Lead, Manufacturing , Transportation & Logistics | Zebra EMEA

Stephan Pottel has 20+ years of industry experience in bringing new technologies to early adopter customers across the Transport, Logistics and Manufacturing verticals. He has been with Zebra since 2017 as part of the EMEA Strategy and Business Development team and is looking after trends and key market drivers in the Automotive industry. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Applied Computer Science from the University of Applied Sciences Niederrhein in Germany.