John F. Kennedy quoted, “The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis’. One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger but recognise the opportunity”. Like it is said in the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunities! As the world continues to fight with the deadly Coronavirus, all the industries are seen suffering with huge losses due to the pandemic. This has pushed the world into a catastrophic situation today however, in some industries, that’s leading to an automation boom!

According to experts the crisis isn’t just accelerating the transition to automation, it will also boost investments powering that change. There is a lay view that automation might slow because the technology is expensive and firms would be hesitant to make capital investments in a crisis. That’s wrong. Economic literature over the last decade shows that these investments are made especially during a crisis.

Medical workers are working day and night to protect infected people. Maintaining social distancing at hospitals is crucial to stop the spread of the pandemic. Here is where robots got their shot! Robots can play a vital role during the present pandemic as they can minimise human intervention at all levels, starting from patient examination to patient care and drug delivery mechanism. When it comes to clinical care, robots come to rescue. They can offer help in disease prevention, diagnosis and screening. Robots have already been widely deployed to disinfect hospitals and other public spaces either using UV light that kills bugs or by repurposing agricultural robots and drones to spray disinfectant, reducing the exposure of cleaning staff to potentially contaminated surfaces. They are also being used to carry out crucial deliveries of food and medication without exposing humans. A more complex challenge that could significantly reduce medical workers’ exposure to the virus would be to design robots that could automate the collection of nasal swabs used to test for COVID-19. Similarly automated blood collection for tests could be of significant help and researchers are already investigating using ultrasound to help robots locate veins to draw blood from.

Outside the medical sphere, robots could also help keep the economy and infrastructure going by standing in for humans in factories or vital utilities like waste management or power plants. Robots are making their way into the retail market. Their entrance into this arena marks an important era of retail defined by cost-cutting and competitiveness. The use of robots in the retail industry highlights their willingness to invest in automation to remain relevant and competitive in today’s fight for foot traffic, lower prices and better profit margins. It is typically used for customer service or logistics-related tasks, improving a customer’s in-store experience and improving a company’s operational efficiency. Robots can be useful for providing directions and product information to customers, tracking, shelving stock and even grabbing objects for customers. Walmart recently introduced shelf-scanning robots in 50 locations around the U.S. The robots check inventory, prices and misplaced items to help each individual store’s inventory practices. Additionally, these robots collect data that Walmart claims will help them improve inventory practices across the nation. Another great example is Best Buy’s Chloe robot, which was first tested in the Chelsea neighbourhood of New York. The robot looks exactly like an industrial robotic arm and moves on a chassis to pick out the products that customers want.

While retail is relatively new industry for robotics, these developing technologies represent the industry’s desire to compete with Amazon and thrive in the generally declining retail marketplace. Like many industrial companies, retailers are hoping robotic automation will have a major impact on productivity and profit margins.

There is a huge upswing in demand for delivery and delivery companies are falling way behind. People have a sudden desire to not have a delivery driver touch their packages and drivers don’t want to interact with scores of people. The roads in some areas have become almost deserted due to lockdowns. What a glorious opportunity this could be for the road based delivery vehicles. With a delivery robot, you can know that a delivery driver did not touch your package. You unload it from the robot, but a shipping worker would have put it in the robot, and of course, workers would have prepared and packed what goes in the package. Still, it’s one less potentially infected person in the chain. If the package is packed and placed by full time employees who are supervised and follow good sanitary protocols from a company you trust, there can be more confidence than in a random gig delivery driver. Virus residue can exist inside the deliverbot, though those can be wiped down regularly, even after every delivery at some greater cost. Government agencies like FEMA are interested in how drone deliveries could help during this crisis.

COVID-19 may become the tipping point of how future organisations operate. Supplying essentials to homes and delivering treatment in high risk areas such as hospitals has remained a challenge. The idea of robots taking up jobs previously done by humans may feel dystopian but scientists believe machines can free up human hospital medical staff while limiting the spread of the virus. As preventing the spread of virus is the need of the hour, robotics industry and automation has a clear chance to flourish. Robots powered by AI and machine learning is capable of performing a variety of manufacturing tasks and production settings. They can be deployed to do mundane and repetitive tasks and duties that are dangerous or unsuitable for humans. Manufacturing companies need to be bolder in their transformation plan by going beyond assessing whether a robotics implementation is consistent with other systems. Strategic approach is needed for encouraging workforce to embrace robotics more. As automation related developments continue to impact all aspects of manufacturing, transformation and organisational productivity will increase as robots become more crucial assets.

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