The pandemic is ushering in a new wave of office and warehouse robots. Will the trend continue?

The pandemic has ushered in a new era of automation that’s here to stay.


January 20, 2021

It’s an internet tradition.

The robotics company Boston Dynamics releases a video of its latest robot doing some advanced human-looking stuff and Twitter loses its mind.

Last month, the firm caught the viral wave with its robots getting their dance on. While the video was no doubt impressive, the practical applications — unless we’ve completely lost the plot here — weren’t readily apparent.

If you’re looking for practical examples of robots at work, a recent report from The Economist says the pandemic has ushered in a new wave of automation that’s here to stay.

The installed base of factory robots is growing…

… forecast to reach 3.2m units by the end of this year, double the count from 2015 — per research firm Robo Global. Within 5 years, the total spend on industrial robots could hit $73B, up 60% from today.

And COVID-19 is only accelerating the trend.

Despite the long-term cost savings from automation, corporate managers have to manage investor expectations when it comes to huge upfront cash outlays.

The pandemic — which is forcing all industries to re-imagine work — provides cover for big robotics investments.

What type of robots we talkin’ bout here? 

According to The Economist, there are a few categories:

  • Retail delivery: UK-based Ocado is an online-only grocer that operates automated warehouses for grocery deliveries and has rolled out its tech to Kroger in the US
  • Remote location monitoring: US-based Emerson and Swiss-Swedish ABB combine AI, cameras, and sensors to help users remotely monitor chemical factories, paper mills, marine vessels, and more
  • Paperwork: Romania’s UiPath automates business processes (and just filed for a $20B IPO) while America’s Workato has raised $100m+

It’s not all doom and gloom for labor, though 

We’ve also seen increased demand for “collaborative robots” (AKA “cobots”) — from firms such as GreyOrange and Amazon-owned Kiva — which are designed to work with people.

Cobots are in particularly high demand for ecommerce warehouses, which are obviously booming.

We have no idea when the next viral Boston Dynamics vid will drop, but we hope that its next robot is 1% as useful as these army of cobots:

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