A Quick Look at 2020: Robots, AI, and their Impact on the Global Economy

Another year has come and gone, marked by landmark developments and feats in the world of science and engineering, particularly in the field of Robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Indeed, this year’s unprecedented global pandemic brought to light the genius behind robots and AI as we struggled to find ways to cope amidst the need for physical distancing. But, you’d be surprised to know that it’s not only healthcare that has benefited from the innovations in the Robotics industry.

From tourist attractions to sports and agriculture, 2020 has brought tons of new advancements in the field. We’ve seen a gigantic Gundam replica, a robot that can climb coconut trees, and even robots capable of performing precise surgeries in different body parts, among many others. It’s not wrong to expect even more of these creations in the near future, as we try to innovate and become even more efficient as a society.

As the year comes to a close, let’s look back at the developments made this 2020 in terms of Robotics and AI, and forecast what we can possibly expect for the future as robots become more intricately involved in our lives.

  • Robot Attractions
  • Use of Robots in Agriculture
  • Robots in Sports
  • Robots and the Health System
  • Robots during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Robot Attractions

Robots are apparently one way to rake in tourists from all around the world. Theme parks and tourist attractions centered on robots are starting to get famous, with this year marking the creation of a huge Gundam robot in Japan, and a robot theme park in South Korea. Let’s find out more about this year’s robot attractions:

  • Walking Gundam Robot in Japan

Just in October this year, Japan created an engineering feat—a walking Gundam robot at 18 meters (60 feet), with 24 degrees of motion. This is indeed no joke, as making a robot this big necessitates the use of various resources, most of which are heavy metals. By trying to engineer it to walk, engineers have had to use concepts from common motor, materials, and actuator technologies, and stretch these to their limits.

But, this is actually not the first time that a full-sized Gundam attraction has been made in Japan! Gundams have been popular in Japan since the animated series aired in 1979, and are still being sold in miniature figures, while also being made into big sized, real-life attractions. In fact, designer Masaki Kawahara of this project is working on a huge Gundam figure a fourth time already!

This speaks volume about how far we’ve gone in the realm of robotics and engineering, to the point of recreating a fictional robot into a real life, full-sized one. This robot attraction will be running until October of 2021, so there’s plenty of time to marvel at its beauty and ingenuity.

  • South Korea’s Gyeongnam Masan Robot Land

South Korea has created the world’s first robot theme park ever: the Gyeongnam Masan Robot Land. This park is a whooping 1.25 million square meters big, housed at the city of Changwon in South Korea’s southeast coast. It also boasts of its own R&D and convention center.

The park’s main attractions feature a combination of robotics technology and entertainment. These are powered by laser projectors, as well as players, servers, and other features all from Christie. These laser projectors are installed throughout the parks’ themed zones, with immersive displays all throughout that are sure to capture the interest and imagination of its viewers.

  • Robot Dolphins for Aquariums?

More and more groups have started speaking out about the life in captivity of numerous animals in aquariums and zoos. Though aquariums have the goal to educate people about sea life, it does so at the expense of these creatures’ freedom. To respond to this dilemma, Edge Innovations, a company based in New Zealand, has introduced the idea of using robotic dolphins that are almost indistinguishable from real-life animals.

Through the use of Hollywood’s best animatronic effect creators, this feat is certainly not out of reach. These dolphins will not only address the issues in putting animals in captivity, but will also last way longer than the average dolphin’s lifespan. It’s remote-controlled, and can interact easily with humans as any regular dolphin would, too! Though it’s currently four times more expensive than a regular dolphin, its creators are convinced that the payoff is worth it at the end.

Use of Robots in Agriculture

Robots have also found much use in the agriculture niche, where they’re being used to make certain agricultural processes much easier. Let’s check out how robots are helping out in terms of agriculture.

  • Robots in Coconut Farms

In India, less and less people are looking at a career in the coconut harvesting industry, what with the boom of available jobs in the country’s tech industry. The solution? A tree-climbing coconut-harvesting robot, it seems!

A prototype of a coconut-harvesting robot, called Amaran, was created by a team from the Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham University in India, led by Asst. Prof. Rajesh Kannan Megalingam. This project has been in the making for three years already, as its current most successful prototype is actually the sixth iteration they’ve made so far!

The robot is typically assembled at the bottom of a coconut tree, then controlled via a joystick or a smartphone app. The robot can move up and down and rotate around the trunk, and can also extend its arm to cut the base of the coconuts to let them fall to the ground.

It’s a very neat invention that removes the need for people to personally climb up trees and put themselves in danger while harvesting coconuts, with no risk of being fatigued even after climbing tens or hundreds of coconut trees. Amaran is currently successful in climbing up trees up to 15.2m (49.9 ft) in height, so we’re excited to see how much it can be used.

  • Crop Weeding and Spraying Robots

Robots are now changing how farmers use herbicides and remove weeds. A solar powered robot called AG BOT II, for example, utilizes a technique called micro-spraying, which means less herbicides are being used to grow crops. Through computer vision technology, this robot is able to detect weeds and simply spray a small, targeted drop of herbicide to stop it from growing.

Another weeding robot, RoboCrop, doesn’t even use chemicals at all! As it is pushed by a tractor, it uses computer vision to detect plants, and automatically uproots the weeds through hoeing the spaces between the plants. There are even robots that utilize lasers to kill weeds, too!

Robots in Sports

Did you know that robots have also proven themselves useful in tightening security, especially for events that host thousands of people, like sports games? This is another advancement we can expect to see even more of in the following years.

  • Using Robots for Surveillance

The world has already met PackBots during the 2014 FIFA World Cup season as one of the primary methods of implementing security in the event. These robots, typically used for military purposes, have quickly become a reliable way of surveillance to boost security and to spot any suspicious persons or objects in the premises.

Designed by iRobot, a company based in Bedford, Massachusetts, PackBot is a robotic propulsion system with speeds up to 9 miles per hour. It is capable of rotating 360 degrees, which helps it navigate difficult terrains and debris-filled places. It can even climb up to 60 percent grades, as well as be submerged up to two meters deep in water.

Though these technologies, it’s no wonder that it’s the perfect way to monitor the situation across large areas all at the same time. With events as big as the FIFA World Cup where individuals from different nationalities across different countries gather, it’s a very trusty companion to ensure the safety of everyone in the area.

  • FORPHEUS: The Table Tennis Coach

Can you believe that a robot is actually capable of teaching and training players to play table tennis better? A robot developed by Omron, a Japanese electronics company, does just that. Called FORPHEUS (short for: Future Omron Robotics Technology for Exploring Possibility of Harmonized Automation with Sinic Theoretics), the robot uses machine learning to analyze a player’s movement, give tips to improve their technique, and adjust their gameplay accordingly.

FORPHEUS is able to monitor its opponent’s movement through the use of movement vision sensors, as well as a motion sensor. This analyzes the ball’s speed a thousand times per second, which lets it predict where the ball may land. The robot can thus react accordingly, and also predict where its return will land with an accuracy of 5 centimeters. These are all projected on screen, so that spectators can actually understand the game better and improve themselves.

Robots and the Health System

Robots are a huge, huge help in the healthcare industry, especially in extra-difficult surgeries where precision and accuracy are of paramount importance. The health system has seen surgical robots improve drastically from robots that would insert biopsy needles in specific angles way back 1985, to the current advanced technologies we have now. Here are some of the incredible surgical robots that have become a big help to the healthcare industry this year:

  • The PRECEYES Surgical System

Our eyes are such a delicate, sensitive organ, so utmost care must be practiced when handling them. To this end, surgeons must have steady hands, especially when operating on areas such as the eyes, where there is an extremely narrow margin of error.

To help with this, the University of Oxford has started trials with its PRECEYES Surgical System—a robot designed to conduct robotic surgeries for the eyes, such as the removal of membranes or of blood buildup in the retina. This project has been such a success, with results finding that the robotic surgeries were as good, and sometimes even better than the manual ones! This is certainly a breakthrough in the way eye operations can be conducted in the future.

  • The CorPath System

Virtual Reality (VR) has advanced to such a degree that it’s essential already in helping doctors practice. Cool, right? The CorPath System from Corindus Vascular Robotics provides doctors on-site training through the use of VR. This is especially useful in giving urgent medical care to people in remote or far-flung areas, where skilled surgeons are hard to come by. What’s more, the CorPath System even allows for remote surgery!

This means that you can operate a robot from miles away, and then use it to conduct the correct procedure the patient needs. This has actually been done in India already, where a cardiovascular surgeon was able to insert a stent into a patient through controlling a robot, all 20 miles away from the operating table! The progress was monitored by the doctor through a screen, while controlling what the robot was supposed to do.

The only downside to this system, currently, is its reliance on high-speed Wi-Fi. However, if this can be remedied, this can certainly be a crucial development in how we conduct surgeries, especially for high-risk individuals.

  • The Monarch Platform

The Monarch Platform was developed by Auris Health Inc., and is an application of different science and engineering feats – from flexible robotics to data science and other technologies – in therapeutic and diagnostic bronchoscopic procedures.

This surgical robot almost has everything you need for a thorough examination—it has endoscopes, instruments, navigation, and robotics all rolled in one, which allows for better, more comprehensive endoscopic interventions. It doesn’t stop there, though! Auris Health Inc. hopes to improve Monarch to cater to different disease states for both diagnostic and therapeutic intervention.

  • The Mako Rio

This is another landmark invention, as it’s actually the first robot approved to be used for knee surgeries! What Mako Rio does is it creates a 3D model of how the procedure will be done, based on the patient’s CT scan. It also gives real-time feedback to surgeons as they use specialty instruments in conducting surgeries.

Aside from its use in the knee area, Mako Rio is also being used already for hip replacements. As hip operations are sensitive, requiring that surgeons carefully place implants inside the patients to help them regain mobility, having robots as aids in these scenarios is a huge help.

Robots during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Perhaps one of the moments that the use of robots and other machines powered by AI really shone this year was with their proven usefulness throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. With physical distancing and regular disinfection both a staple in our daily lives, robots have really provided a way to make things both more convenient and more effective for us. Let’s review their main uses this year:

  1. Repurposing Drones and Robots for Disinfection

Countries all around the world have started using aerial drones for disinfecting, allowing them to cover a larger area while safely being distanced from each other. In China, for instance, more than 2,600 drones have already been deployed for this particular use.

Aside from drones, robots are also being used in certain hospitals to aid with disinfecting. There are robots that roam around to disinfect via UV light, and even other robots disinfecting rooms through other means. Public areas are being sanitized with the help of robots, too, an example of which is Hong Kong’s subways using vaporized hydrogen peroxide (VHP) robots to disinfect their rail carts.

  • Turning to Automation to Help Battle the Pandemic

Automation has been a huge help in adopting to the drastic shift caused by the current pandemic. Automated systems have played a significant role in monumental tasks such as the development of vaccines and testing of people for infection. There are antiviral agents that have been developed through the help of robots and AI, too!

Aside from these, though, robots and AI have also helped even in mundane, day-to-day tasks. For instance, some hospitals have already replaced their personnel in the reception area with robots or machines to minimize the need for human interaction. In other countries and hospitals, robots are being used to protect medical personnel as they attend to patients. Some robots are also being used as the first point of contact for isolated patients infected with the virus.

All around the world, there are robots taking temperature and gathering relevant information for potential patients, and relaying these to healthcare providers. With their help, front liners are less exposed to people, and therefore less susceptible to contracting the coronavirus,

  • Rising Use of Delivery Robots

With physical distancing being a key tactic in minimizing the spread of the coronavirus, corporations have also found a way to reduce the need for people to go out to get their necessities, and even decrease human interaction when it comes to deliveries.

With groceries, pharmacies, and restaurants operating at a limited capacity, robots have proven their usefulness with aiding in the acquisition of goods from warehouses and stores. Some robots are also used to deliver goods to the consumers’ doorstep.

Other companies are looking at innovating drone delivery services for less heavy goods, such as medication. These are being considered to ensure that person-to-person interactions are limited as much as possible, to curb the spread of the virus.

  • Utilizing Robots for Telepresence and Distance Learning

Though not designed for use in a global pandemic, it seems telepresence robots have served a great purpose during this year’s coronavirus outbreak. Some nursing homes in Belgium, for example, have turned to telepresence robots to limit the contact of vulnerable populations with other people, even their family members.

Telemedicine has also started gaining popularity, especially now that people won’t prefer to go to the hospital to treat minor illnesses. In the future, it’s easy to expect that people will be more comfortable with using robots in health facilities, especially given the convenience and security they bring!

Meanwhile, as children struggle to continue their education during these trying times, robots have also become a way to help them learn better. A humanoid robot called Milo, for example, is offering a free software called robots4STEM Avatar Version for students whose schools have closed. This allows them to learn basic coding, following computer science standards mandated by the International Society of Technology.

The Impact of Robots on the Labor Force

Just take a look around, and you’ll notice just how many tasks we rely on machines and technology for. The same is true even for available jobs to humans. With this in mind, it’s easy to wonder what the future will be like for the labor force—what jobs, exactly, can robots and AI dominate enough to eliminate the need for a human touch? In which professions, on the other hand, are humans less likely to be replaced by robots? Let’s find out.

  • Robots are Likely to Take Over the Following Jobs

In a database consolidated by NPR using information from Oxford University, different professions were ranked depending on the likelihood that they’ll be done or performed by robots in the near future. Based from their findings, 14 of the state of Maine’s Top 20 jobs, apparently, have a 50% or greater chance of getting taken over by robots or other technologies that utilize AI.

Let’s have a look on these jobs and the percentage for each:

Position Title Likelihood of Being Taken Over by Robots (in percent)
Customer Service Representatives 99
Store Clerks and Order Filers 98
Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks 97.6
Cashier 97.1
Food Preparation Workers 96.3
Restaurant Waiters 93.7
Combined Food Preparers and Servers
(e.g., Fast Food Franchise Employees)
Retail Salespersons 92.3
Office Clerks 86.5
Secretaries / Administrative Assistants 86.5
Heavy Equipment and Tractor Trailer Truck Drivers 78.6
Laborers and Freight Movers 72.4
Janitors and Cleaners 66.3
Teacher Assistants 55.7
Personal Care Aides 38.5
Retail Supervisors 27.91
Registered Nurses 4.5
Nursing Assistants 14.5
General or Operations Managers 6.9
Elementary School Teachers 0.4
  • Professions Least Likely to be Taken Over by Robots

Just as there are jobs that will probably be taken up by robots in the near future, there are still a few professions that we just can’t delegate to robots or AI, it appears! NPR, based on a study conducted by Oxford University, created a detailed list of the likelihood for different jobs to be taken over by robots. If you’re curious which ones have the least chances of being done by robots, well, you’re in luck! Here are the professions with a likelihood of less than 1% to be taken over by robots:

Position Title Likelihood of Being Taken Over by Robots (in percent)
Clergy 0.8
High School Teachers 0.8
Foresters 0.8
Anthropologists and Archeologists 0.8
Curators 0.7
Preschool Teachers 0.7
Social and Community Service Managers 0.7
Medical and Health Services Managers 0.7
Computer Systems Analysts 0.6
Set and Exhibit Designers 0.5
Education Administrators 0.5
Medical Scientists 0.5
Clinical Counseling and School Psychologists 0.5
Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons 0.4
Physicians and Surgeons 0.4
Dentists 0.4
Podiatrists 0.4
Choreographers 0.4
Elementary School Teachers 0.4
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers 0.3
Occupational Therapists 0.3

The Future of Robots

Robots and machineries are so deeply intertwined with our lives now already, so it’s not hard to imagine a future where they’ll be even more present. But how else can robots drastically change our future, you ask? Here are 10 different developments we can expect in the near future, as we dabble more on using robots and AI in our lives:

  • Having robots for public security

With the rate at which we’re advancing in terms of AI and robotics engineering, using robots for detecting – and possibly even predicting – crime doesn’t seem like such a far-fetched idea anymore. With the use of drone footage, for instance, detecting crime real-time can be a very simple feat. This means a better response for law enforcement personnel, regardless of what crime may be committed.

  • Robots in the education sector

Computer-based learning has been steadily gaining traction recently, especially now that people had to learn on their own at home due to the pandemic. There’s no reason to doubt, then, that in the future, robots can help boost the process of personalized learning. In fact, there’s a dedicated robot already for doing that! NAO, a humanoid robot, has already helped and bonded with a lot of students all around the world to help with their learning.

  • Using robots at home

We already have smart TVs, smart refrigerators, even smart air conditioning units… so what’s to stop us from expecting a bit more? Cloud-connected home robots are technically part of our lives already—from hands-free vacuum cleaners and roombas to robotic cookers we can use to create our meals for us, we’re definitely starting to rely more and more on robots to maintain our homes.

What we can expect is for these to develop in the future! Perhaps they’ll be more advanced with the inclusion of speech comprehension, or maybe they’ll be a staple in all kinds of appliances. We never know, but we do know there’s more in store for us in time!

  • Working with robots

As mentioned above, we know that there are jobs that are susceptible to being performed by robots instead—these are usually jobs that require manual labor, so you can definitely expect to work with robots in the future. This is something we should be ready for.

  • Replacing other jobs with robots

Robots are increasingly being more viable options than paying humans for labor, especially in some industries. Factories have invested more and more in machines, for example, rather than having people manually do these jobs. We’re looking at even more positions that can possibly be automated in the future, where we can completely rely on robots already instead.

  • Creation of new jobs

Robots aren’t all a threat to our jobs, though! They’ll definitely take on tasks that we can give to them, but perhaps in the future also pave the way for the creation of more jobs. After all, as we discover that we can leave the easier, more menial tasks for robots, then we can focus on doing and creating jobs that matter.

  • Self-driving cars

We already have autonomous cars, but there’s still a lot to do before they can be fully trustworthy, thus still requiring the need for human intervention sometimes. Not to mention, most self-driving cars are on the pricey range now, too!

But, in the future, we’ll definitely get to the day when this won’t be a problem. Autonomous cars are becoming more advanced and requiring less human intervention. If the trend catches on, it might be more readily available for the general market, too!

  • Robots in healthcare

Even healthcare is evolving already, and at the heart of it is the use of robots. We can look at having robots perform basic tasks in hospitals such as getting our temperature or blood pressure levels. Pharmabotics are worth looking forward to as well! It might be easier in the future to buy the drugs or medicine we need through the use of vending machines for medicine.

  • A general higher standard of living

All that being said, it’s so easy to imagine how robots can improve and boost our standard of living in the future. They’ll definitely make things faster, easier, and more efficient, by reducing the need for us to do the more menial tasks at work or at home. Automation is part of the future, and it’s definitely worth looking forward to!

That has been a comprehensive review of the developments in robotics and AI this year, and where we can hope and expect to be in the coming years. Definitely, the world has evolved to such an advancing time where almost everything is at the tip of our fingers. Thanks to technology, we can look forward to a more secure, more efficient, and more exciting future!