Rise of the Robots: 2 Industries Increasingly Turning to Robotics for Innovation

As technology improves, robots are playing an increasingly important part in our economy. Robots are now able to perform complicated tasks such as surgery, military reconnaissance, and combat, and they are even replacing human labor in manufacturing plants at a faster rate than ever before. With so much promise surrounding the robotics field recently, we'll look at how robots are transforming the areas of auto manufacturing and healthcare at a breakneck pace today.

The business of making cars
No industry has changed more over the past 100 years because of robots than the auto manufacturing business. In fact, the auto industry accounted for nearly 40% of worldwide robot sales last year, according to the International Federation of Robotics. Today, industrial robots work alongside humans on hundreds of automobile assembly lines around the world. These autonomous machines help companies save time and money by automating tasks like welding, foundry, and laser applications. 

In a National Geographic documentary, over 500 robots work tirelessly to crank out more than 1,000 cars per day at one of Hyundai Motor's manufacturing plants in Alabama. Robots have become key to the auto industry because they make the process of producing cars faster, safer, and more efficient. Thanks to robots, automakers from Hyundai to BMW and Tesla Motors (NASDAQ: TSLA  )  are able to build multiple vehicle models on a single assembly line. That's because industrial grade robots like those made by Kuka are capable of executing multiple tasks including welding, bolting, or transporting parts. In turn, this multitasking helps auto companies significantly increase production times.

A robotic assembly line in use at Tesla's Fremont factory. Source: Tesla Motors.

Tesla recently added robots to its new production line, and management expects the new bots to help boost the company's production by as much as 55% to more than 35,000 vehicles this year. While that might not seem like a lot compared to Hyundai, it's a feat that wouldn't be possible without advanced robotics.

Robotic stamping stations at Tesla's Fremont facility. Source: Tesla Motors.

BMW, meanwhile, is putting lightweight robots to work alongside human workers on its assembly line at its plant in Spartanburg in the U.S. In the past, industrial robots were confined to cages in order to protect workers from potential injuries. Today, BMW uses robots made by Universal Robots, a company based in Denmark, to fit doors with sound and moisture insulation.

Thanks to its "collaborative" bots, Universal Robots has seen its sales surge more than 40-fold since 2010, according to the Financial Times. Now that the auto industry has proven robots can work collaboratively with human workers, this creates a massive opportunity for service bots in other fields, such as healthcare.

Automatons in healthcare
Robotics are revolutionizing the healthcare industry in ways once relegated to science fiction. Automatons like the da Vinci Surgical System by Intuitive Surgical (NASDAQ: ISRG  ) have already changed the operating room by enabling surgeons to operate on patients using robotic arms. But the future of robotics in healthcare is increasingly becoming more service-based. Think delivery bots in hospitals or remote access robots capable of administering elderly care. 

The International Federation of Robotics believes that by 2016, robots will have made valuable inroads into service industries like healthcare, where "an aging population will require support services, for which human care givers will be too few in number to provide." iRobot (NASDAQ: IRBT  ) is already on this path thanks to its RP-VITA, or Remote Presence Virtual + Independent Telemedicine Assistant. This portable bot enables doctors to diagnose patients remotely without having to physically be in the room with them.

iRobot's and InTouch Health's RP-VITA device. Source: iRobot.

iRobot teamed up with InTouch Health to create the RP-VITA, and the duo got FDA approval for its telemedicine bots in 2012. This was a smart move for iRobot considering the global market for telepresence robots is expected to top $13 billion by 2017, according to ABI Research. The company leases its RP-Vita system to hospitals and healthcare professionals for around $5,000 per month, according to a report from CBS. 

We are still in the early stages of service robots in the healthcare space, but iRobot seems to be a key player in this emerging space, particularly as its RP-VITA tech is the first to use autonomous navigation technology. In fact, only 1,000 hospitals in the U.S. and abroad were using InTouch telemedicine robots as of November 2013. The American Telemedicine Association reports that more than half of all U.S. hospitals are now using telemedicine devices like those made by iRobot. 

In addition to telemedicine devices, there are also robots in hospitals today that carry out other services such as safely transporting controlled substances or medicines to different areas of the hospital. The bottom line is this: Intelligent hospital systems are here to stay. The presence of robots in healthcare will only grow in the years ahead, as robotics make it easier, faster and safer for doctors and health professionals to diagnose and administer care to patients worldwide.

A future of machines
Robots have been transforming the automotive industry for decades now, but only recently are they making inroads into other industries such as healthcare and services. This trend will only grow in the years to come as robotics technology continues to improve at a breakneck pace.

From robots to technologically advanced wearables: Why Apple's next smart device may shock you
Apple recently recruited a secret-development "dream team" to guarantee its newest smart device was kept hidden from the public for as long as possible. But the secret is out, and some early viewers are claiming its everyday impact could trump the iPod, iPhone, and the iPad. In fact, ABI Research predicts 485 million of this type of device will be sold per year. But one small company makes Apple's gadget possible. And its stock price has nearly unlimited room to run for early, in-the-know investors. To be one of them, and see Apple's newest smart gizmo, just click here!


Read/Post Comments (3) | Recommend This Article (3)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On August 26, 2014, at 10:20 AM, FrankoJames wrote:

    T. Walsh,

    You might be interested in researching a company called MBLY (if you like IRBT). Noteworthy, I procured a small position in iRobot this morning as a speculation that driving robots are going to become a futuristic probability as the baby boomers of the world age into existence. Enjoy your bucket, I might have invented the worlds safest parachute when I was in high school, but only placed with it because it sailed off course. With a guidance system in place from iRobot or Mobileye, who knows, I might have won that competition.

    Sail on,

    Jim Franko

  • Report this Comment On August 28, 2014, at 10:32 AM, FrankoJames wrote:

    I thought the following link contained an interesting product, a robot lawn motor:

    http://www.robomow.com/en-USA/?gclid=CIzHk4OWtsACFWoR7Aod4CA...

  • Report this Comment On August 30, 2014, at 4:51 PM, FrankoJames wrote:

    The latter product is actually called a robotic lawn mower, not a lawn motor. However, thanks and your always welcome to have more typos than me in your future postings at The Motley Fool. I hope you uncover a few hidden gems of equity based joy while rummaging through my postings here in the Foolish abyss.

Add your comment.

Sponsored Links

Leaked: Apple's Next Smart Device
(Warning, it may shock you)
The secret is out... experts are predicting 458 million of these types of devices will be sold per year. 1 hyper-growth company stands to rake in maximum profit - and it's NOT Apple. Show me Apple's new smart gizmo!

DocumentId: 3079783, ~/Articles/ArticleHandler.aspx, 9/21/2014 2:34:16 PM

Report This Comment

Use this area to report a comment that you believe is in violation of the community guidelines. Our team will review the entry and take any appropriate action.

Sending report...


Advertisement