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Robot Predictions: Trends and Developments to Watch for in 2021

If there is one thing 2020 proved, it’s that solving real-world problems with practical solutions is what’s required for robotic technology to succeed. 

For example, this past year, multiple robot companies rose to the occasion and deployed a number of autonomous sanitation solutions for hospitals, airports, industrial facilities, and more. 

The speed at which these solutions were spun up was a result of utilizing the type of building block technology required to power a fast-moving industry like robotics. 

When speaking purely in terms of advancements in robotics, 2020 was certainly an exciting year. But 2021 is now upon us and the folks at Freedom Robotics are keeping their eyes trained on the future. 

Making predictions at the end of each year is a time-honored tradition across industries. The robotics industry is no different. We asked several Freedom executives and engineers to share both their robot predictions and thoughts on what we can expect in 2021. The resulting roundup is below. 

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Sophie Arlow, Chief of Staff, Freedom Robotics

Sophie Arlow from Freedom Robotics shares her robot predictions for 2021.What large acquisitions or partnerships might occur in 2021? 
In 2021 we’re likely to see additional acquisitions occur in the e-commerce, warehousing, and 3PL space. This will continue to be driven by the e-commerce demand created by Amazon, Shopify, and others. These markets will continue to grow, as will the need to meet ever-increasing customer delivery expectations. 

What will be the next application breakthrough, specifically in the enterprise? 
Manufacturing production lines are already largely automated by industrial robots. The next step will be for these facilities to adopt robot technology that enhances the efficiency of the material handling workflows that support the production lines. 

What type of safety advancements can we expect?
Advancements in safety will forge ahead in 2021. Employees specifically trained to manage and operate robots will emerge and work alongside robots in increasingly complex and automated environments. 

 


 

Achille Verheye, Senior Robotics Engineer, Freedom Robotics

Achille Verheye from Freedom Robotics shares his robot predictions for 2021.

What will be the next application breakthrough, specifically in the enterprise? 
I predict several enterprise-focused application breakthroughs in 2021. 

3-D camera technology will see widespread integration with automated bin-picking solutions used by e-commerce and warehouse fulfillment operators. 

Tools that allow control of automation technology from home will become more widespread. 

To continue complying with social distancing and staff reduction mandates, fleet management platforms will begin to allow AMRs, AGVs, and other automation technologies to be remotely controlled and configured as-needed. 

Because brittle robot coordination will continue to leave robotic automation projects sidelined, a consortium dedicated to multi-vendor fleet control is likely to emerge and work toward solving the problem. 

What enterprise sectors will see the most growth due to the adoption of robotics?
Several industries will see growth in 2021 as a result of robotics adoption. 

Warehousing will continue to see growth, but not in such large amounts as other industries since robot adoption is already so widespread. 

The construction industry will experience growth as a result of the continued adoption of robotics. These tools will not just be used for assisting with actual construction, but for providing visibility, proactively identifying issues, tracking progress, and more.  

Custom manufacturing will likely see the most growth of all because these niche players have been slower to adopt collaborative robots. 

 


 

Alex Cutting, Head of Hardware, Freedom Robotics 

Alex Cutting  from Freedom Robotics shares his robot predictions for 2021.What will be the next application breakthrough, specifically in the enterprise? 
In 2021 we will start to see wider adoption of fleet management software platforms that integrate robots from different manufacturers. Today, manufacturers utilize a variety of robots that each perform one specific task, like material handling or welding very well. Getting those systems to work together as a cohesive "system of systems" and aggregating multi-platform data for the purpose of optimization will begin to see adoption at the highest levels. 

There is transformative potential for robotics within agriculture, so I anticipate proof of concept efforts in that industry will continue. Based on widespread labor shortages, there is enough economic incentive to ensure continued development in this space. The big unknown continues to be if the economics will support these systems when they reach maturity.

Finally, there’s robotic sanitation. Covid-19 spurred a boom for robot sanitation solutions in hospitals and industrial facilities, but general sanitation requirements can be met by these same solutions going forward. I predict that the muscle memory developed by many industries using automated sanitization will continue as the Covid-19-related need hopefully starts to fade.

What changes might we see in the robotics industry in general? 
A lot of robotics companies in the past several years adopted a mindset that manufacturers or logistics providers would one day exclusively use their technology for all their automation needs. 

‘Do you need robotic arms? We have those. Do you need material handling solutions? We have those, too. And, everything runs on our proprietary software!

The reality is that most modern production facilities rely on many different types of robots, and none of them come with software that can talk to the other robots. In any production facility that is dealing with a complex environment there is a tremendous need for one system that can monitor and control all elements of the system.



Dheera Venkatraman, Robotics Engineer, Freedom Robotics

What large acquisitions or partnerships might occur in 2021? Dheera Venkatraman from Freedom Robotics shares his robot predictions for 2021.
Amazon will likely acquire new technology to continue automating its facilities. Kiva Systems delivers real economic value within Amazon warehouses so it makes sense the company would plan to automate processes such as sorting, packing, and bin-picking. 

What type of safety advancements can we expect?
Multi-channel 360° Lidar will come down in cost. This will advance widespread adoption and enhance already safe and reliable robotic technologies. 

Robots will also continue taking on dangerous tasks that risk lives when performed by humans. Tasks like riding into storms by boat for more accurate weather forecasting or chopping metal at a metallurgy plant — these tasks should be performed by robots. 

What enterprise sectors will see the most growth due to the adoption of robotics?
Clean energy has great potential for growth in 2021 if the industry begins to adopt robotics. For instance, robots can help automate the production of solar panels and both wind and hydroelectric turbines. In the field, robots can also assist with the removal of dust from solar panels to ensure maximum output. There are many possibilities. 

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