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Robotics and Automation Update: 2021 Is the Year of Convenience

Some robots building a Terminator

Robotics and automation are the way of the future for commercial enterprises. Based on recent data, more than half of all companies are already investing heavily in these areas. These investments range from robotic-assisted health procedures to automated warehouse management. Businesses are pursuing these types of activities not only because their “cool.” Instead, they seem things like robotics and autonomous transportation as being essential for future success. Those who lag behind will struggle to catch up, especially as consumers begin to expect the conveniences these advances offer. (Read more about how the drive for convenience pushes innovation in this Bold story.)

Understanding this, it’s worth checking in to see which companies are pursuing these innovative technologies today. Several new startups are introducing new robotics and automated solutions in a variety of industries. Many are forming major partnerships that will pave the way for ongoing adoption in the years to come. This is particularly true for autonomous transportation solutions, which are expected to grow substantially in the next 5 years. The following highlight some of these more intriguing developments currently that will likely usher in a new era of automation.

“There is still so much for our brand to learn about the autonomous delivery space. This program will allow us to better understand how customers respond to the deliveries, how they interact with the robot and how it affects store operations.” – Dennis Maloney, Senior Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer, Domino’s Pizza

ATM Pizza Delivery?

With the pandemic, delivery services have skyrocketed as consumers enjoyed the safety and convenience of at-home service. This notably pertained to food delivery services, and Domino’s Pizza has been one company that benefitted from consumer preferences. However, Domino’s was already investing in autonomous transportation and driverless delivery systems before the pandemic. In fact, it partnered with autonomic driving vehicle startup Nuro in 2019 for this purpose specifically. Now, Nuro and Domino’s have announced the launch of their electric, self-driving, occupant-less delivery vehicles in select Houston areas.

Nuro’s robotics project, called the R2 robot, uses radar, 360-degree cameras and thermal sensors to navigate autonomously. As a result, Nuro has become the first autonomous transportation company approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Nuro is also partnering with other companies as well. This includes Kroger in Houston and Phoenix as well as Walmart and CVS in California. And it recently received an additional $500 million in Series C funding with Chipotle being a notable contributor. The current Domino’s robotics car will provide pizza-lovers GPS tracking of its location. Likewise, customers will receive a PIN after payment to access their pie from the vehicle’s touchscreen…just like an ATM.

“The Hominis system represents a significant advancement in the growing multi-billion-dollar robotic surgery market. This financing positions us to accelerate our commercialization efforts and bring Hominis to both surgeons and patients in the months ahead.” – Dvir Cohen, Co-founder and CEO of Memic

Robotics in Surgery

Another hot area of robotics has been healthcare as of late. In particular, several startups have introduced automated products that assist surgeons with specific procedures. For example, Asensus Surgical offers robotic automation for general laparoscopic procedures. For Sight, another company, does the same for some eye-related surgical interventions. Unlike autonomous transportation, however, these devices are still controlled by surgeons through a central console. However, these types of robotics offer greater precision in many cases and reduced surgery time in many instances. All of this results not only in better patient results but also a reduced number of potential complications.

A robot putting a computer chip somewhere
Robotics innovations continue into 2021, with more automated hands performing tasks than ever before.

Most recently, another startup company received FDA approval as the first transvaginal robotics device. Memic, who introduced its Hominis platform, was granted approval for benign transvaginal procedures like hysterectomies. In essence, this allows Memic to marketing these devices to surgeons and patients alike with interests in these areas. It also resulted in the company receiving an additional $96 million in Series D funding. While these types of surgical robotics may never be fully independent like autonomous transportation, they have noted advantages. Thus, patients can expect these types of offerings will only increase over the next many years.

“[A partnership with Cruise] is a major step towards realizing Dubai’s Self-Driving Transport Strategy aimed at converting 25% of total trips in Dubai into self-driving transport trips across different modes of transport by 2030.” – Dubai’s Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed

Scaling the Robo-Taxi

Many cities throughout the world have been experimenting with autonomous transportation in the form of robot-taxies. These are a form of robotics that could completely revamp transit services as we know them. Not only are most electric in nature, but they also could reduce human error and traffic congestion. Understanding this, Dubai has been aggressive in its efforts to embrace autonomous transportation. As part of its 2030 initiatives, the city hopes that a quarter of all passenger trips will be served by automated travel. This has led them to partner with Cruise, made by General Motors to achieve these bold plans.

The electric robotics shuttles that GM will provide for Dubai will be called Cruise Origin. These autonomous transportation vehicles have no steering wheel or pedals yet are able to travel at highway speeds. While a limited number will be available in 2023, GM and Dubai plan to have over 4,000 in operation by 2030. This will aid Dubai in achieving its transit goals for the city. Plus, GM gets a pretty sweet deal as well. They have been awarded the exclusive autonomous transportation provide for robo-taxi services in the city through 2029.

Consumer Adoption of Robotics and Automation

If one thing is certain, the pandemic served as a catalyst for many industries. E-commerce, delivery services, telehealth, and others were better received out of a state of necessity. But in the process, users became more comfortable with a variety of technologies. And these changes will enable robotics, autonomous transportation, and other automated processes to be endorsed. In the decade to come, these types of innovations will become increasingly the norm. And for many businesses, it will be important to explore opportunities where automation may enhance their services. Such shifts are already present in 2021, and many more will likely come in the very near future.


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