About fifteen years ago less than a hundred robots were made for industry in India, however now that figure stands at nearly 6000 annually. This is a hallmark of the fourth industrial revolution or Industry 4.0 that is characterized by ongoing automation of traditional manufacturing and industrial practices, using modern smart technology, robotics and the Internet of Things (IoT).
The word ‘robot’ was coined in 1920 by the Czech playwright Karel Capek in his play ‘R.U.R.’ (Rossum’s Universal Robots). Science fiction picked it up, and for most people robots conjure up images of ferocious human-like machines that are looking to conquer the earth. However, historically robots have been inelegant mechanical devices assisting in factories.
The relationship between humans and robots is now changing, as the latter move out of the factories, into social life. Many of us would have seen clips on our phones of box like robots trundling along pavements making deliveries of food and medicine during Covid-19. Robotic surgery is being done extensively in Indian hospitals.
Robots are no more mechanical devices – they have transformed into agile, mobile, autonomous machines that can do everything from driving cars to helping create better planned cities.
The era of robots has arrived, driven primarily by the rapid innovations in technology of smart phones. The smart phone brought fast wireless communication, nano computer chips, and cheap sensors and cameras. Apart from bringing the world in our palm, this technology has transformed robotics. The leaps in machine learning ensure that robots are able to make better decisions about their surroundings.
These advances are going to change the way we live. Robots are not going to work for us; they are going to increasingly work with us. Apart from surgeries, robots are increasingly being used to complement the work of care of the ill and the elderly. Cleaning, moving materials, and even entertaining in old age homes. Robots are used for the mundane, dull, repetitive and dangerous jobs – freeing up people for the more important jobs.
Driverless cars, drones that help in managing traffic in emergencies, in warehouses, agriculture and even in war – robots are everywhere. The current conflict between Russia and Ukraine has seen the dawn of war from a distance being fought virtually by remote control, automated systems, and artificial intelligence.
One of the biggest fears is about job loss on account of the advent of robots. As is pointed out by many researchers, automation almost always creates more jobs. Most of us would remember booking a trunk call to another city years ago. Telephone exchanges employed many people. But the telecom explosion has created far more jobs as connectivity and automation have transformed communication. A study that looked at Japanese manufacturing between 1978 and 2017 found that an increase of one robot unit per 1,000 workers boosted a company’s employment by 2.2 pc.
As per a latest study by the International Federation of Robotics, India is on the top 15 list of the highest number of recorded robot installations in 2020, with 3,200 robots deployed. Many Indian made robots are creating a buzz in the global tech market, including Manav- a 3D printed humanoid robot and Sandy – the world’s first human-size humanoid robot. During the pandemic ‘Mitra’ a robot made by a start-up in Bengaluru was used in many hospitals in India.