Outlook 2016: Planet of Robotics

If analysts are right, you might just have to work for a robot in the next few years. Let’s see what the year 2016 has in store for robotics.

The machines are coming, and fast. Last year, Gartner predicted that one-third of the workforce may be replaced by robots by the year 2025. But Indian CIOs disagree. In fact, despite the fact that companies like Fortis, Larsen & Toubro, and New Holland Fiat are successfully reaping the benefits of deploying robotics, some companies remain skeptical, and hence, reluctant. When will they cross the bridge, if at all?

Giving up manual labor to employ mere machines is a task many enterprises find difficult to digest. User experience and adaption are two of the biggest challenges faced by enterprises while deploying robotics, according to Kartik Visweswaran, CIO at Wipro. “Companies need the appropriate and adequate skills, and tools to deliver the perfect near-human robotics’ user experience,” he added.

User experience and adaption are two of the biggest challenges faced by enterprises while deploying robotics.

Why near-human? Because, your users have to comfortable with it. You are certainly not winning any brownie points by putting forth a giant metal box with glowing red eyes to serve your customers, right? But, the problem is deeper than just customer satisfaction. While deployment of robots involve minimal upfront costs and upgrade costs, the fact remains that you still have to control a workforce which is not human.

For Bhupendra Pant, Head HO IT at Larsen & Toubro, the overall picture still seems a little murky. “The continuity, the expertise to support this technology is still not full proof and becomes a mix of human and machine,” he said.

A mix of manual intervention with robotics doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Apparently, it is not good either. Pant elaborates, “If I am running welding robots and there happens to be frequent interruption in the mechanics or power supply, it is difficult to run the support system and not lose anything. Operations of that machines might have to be paused leading to compromising in quality.”

Bhupendra Pant, Head HO IT, L&T

The country’s power quality is also a problem, he added, without solving which, an ecosystem designed to run a fully-automated-robotics environment is not a possibility. On the other hand, Sudeep Dey, General Manager – India IT, Fortis Healthcare, hasn’t faced any obstacles while deploying robotics yet. “There were no challenges because the doctors and medical practitioners we work with, and my team were all willing to jump the gun,” he said. With robotics, Fortis has taken its patient care a step ahead with unmatched premium precision in healthcare.

By 2018, 45 percent of the fastest-growing companies will have fewer employees than instances of smart machines. Are we really headed for an automated workforce?

According to Cathy Tombohm, research VP at Gartner, “2016 will be the year of major adoption of robotic process automation software – especially in banking and insurance.” She added that Indian IT companies will have to work hard to strategize how to both capitalise on the opportunities of robotic process automation and smart machines, and make up for revenue which will be cannibalized by automation. Smart machines is one of Gartner’s top three strategic trends for 2016.

So, who are going to innovate and who will stay away from the fear of disruption? Dey is confident that all industries in the near future will be able to effectively leverage and execute robotics in their company. “Technology trends are innovating at the drop of a hat,” he added.

Others are not as optimistic. “As an industry in India, we have to come up with a higher level of shop floor automation with seamless connectivity between workstations, machines and humans to build a strong interface between machine and the man,” said Avinash Arora, Director ICT (India & S.E.Asia) & Supply Chain Management at New Holland Fiat.

A pre-empted assembly line is the way to go for the auto industry, he feels, so that each workstation is already informed for a smoothly running supply chain.

2016 will be the year of major adoption of robotic process automation software – especially in banking and insurance.

However, Arora expects fast implementation of robotics in the auto industry and medical engineering sector, but said that the commercial and consumer usage is still a long way to go. “Soon, robots will be everywhere, not replacing but aiding us,” he chuckled.

The correct deployment of robotics will open up a whole new avenue of opportunities. From automated supermarkets to drone-only pizza delivery to facial and voice recognition enabled smart homes, there is so much to explore. Perhaps we should be ready for a robo-boss!