Of all the hot takes on the coming of automation to the retail sector, opinion pieces on all of the soon-to-be out of work employees can come off as greatly exaggerated. While that outcome may come to pass in some degree, it's much more likely that human workers and their robot colleagues will co-exist for some intermediary period.
At least, that's what a collection of experts told a crowd at their panel discussion at a conference organized by the International Federation of Robotics in Munich, Reuters reported. Citing the imminent rise of collaborative robots, or cobots, in manufacturing fields where repetitive tasks can be easily automated, Denmark-based Universal Robots' co-founder Esben Ostergaard told Reuters that the rate they're selling robotic units adept at gluing, fastening and transferring objects as part of a larger assembly line has far outstripped even Universal Robots' expectations.
"We are approximately doubling every year, in terms of units," Ostergaard said. "That's our ambition and we have almost hit our ambition every year for six straight years."
While raw sales may not be significant enough to warrant much attention, Universal Robots was acquired in 2015 for $285 million, so at least its new owner, Teradyne, realizes the potential to be had in cobots. DHL, too, has purchased several of Rethink Robotics' Baxter and Sawyer cobots and will be testing how they perform alongside human operators to assist with the packing and shipping of items across its global supply chain.
"By 2020 [cobots] will be a game changer," Stefan Lampa, head of robotics at Germany-based Kuka, told the Munich conference.