The story of 2020 is the story of the coronavirus pandemic – and robots play a vital role in the global response to the pandemic. Every month brought with it a new story on how robots helped take the fight to the coronavirus. In Hong Kong, robots disinfected the crowded subway system. In South Korea, robot “baristas” replaced real baristas in coffee houses.
In Japan, robots can help serve people and work from distance in a grocery store! In China, robots helped pick up trash and deliver meals in hospitals; self-driving Chinese vans also helped make food runs and spray disinfectant to help stop the spread. Thai “ninja robots” allowed for doctors to talk to patients at a distance. Rwandan authorities deployed anti-epidemic robots to take temperatures, screen patients, and prevent human-to-human spread. Robots even took the place of spectators at a baseball game!
This type of unprecedented crisis on a global scale demanded an unparalleled response from the robotics industry, also on a worldwide scale – and that’s precisely what happened.
Another big theme of 2020? Seeing how the Animal Kingdom influenced the world of robotics. Spot, the fabled “robot dog” from Boston Dynamics, continued its influence over the industry; you could purchase one for a mere $74,500. A “cockroach robot” from Harvard can zip around at great speeds and carry heavy loads. The “Slothbot” blends into the environment to (very slowly) study its subjects.
General Electric based its new tunneling robot on worms’ movements, optimizing the digging capabilities for military purposes. A cheetah-like “soft robot” mimicked the running motion of a cheetah, delivering tremendous speed to the robot for (hopefully) future search and rescue purposes.
It’s all incredible stuff. It’s a reminder that the very human creators of these amazing robots have to look everywhere in nature to develop the characteristics that the most successful robots have.
Once again, we saw robots move even deeper into the world of traditional “blue-collar” working jobs. The world of delivery robots took off in 2020 – quite literally. Walmart and Amazon made significant progress in doing deliveries by drone. An MIT robot took up some key janitorial services roles, zapping germs out of a warehouse in around a half-hour. A man in quarantine built a robot barber to help eliminate that excessive lockdown hair (let’s face it, we all thought about doing the same thing at one time or another). Another Hellboy-esque robot can punch through walls – perfect for the construction industry.
Perhaps the biggest news in the “blue-collar robot” sector came from the geniuses over at Boston Dynamics. Collaborating with OTTO Motors, they developed the “Handle” robot to go with the “Pick” computer vision system. Together, the two created a new robotic breed of a warehouse worker for the OTTO plant.
This fascinating growth in the sector brings with it a host of questions. What jobs will it displace? What new skills will human workers have to learn to keep up? How quickly will this type of automation spread? It’s something that workers of all types will have to keep an eye on for years to come.
Finally, let’s take stock of some other amazing creations that impressed us in 2020 for big and small problems. How about Shimon, the singing robot? Or Perseverance, the NASA robot still headed to other worlds? There was Salto, the Olympic-level gymnast robot, and the “hotel” for robots on the International Space Station.
The RoBeetle gets powered by alcohol. There will be a robot helicopter on Mars in 2021. Of course, there’s also a GIANT JAPANESE GUNDAM ROBOT. How cool is that?
Big and small, here on Earth and up in the stars, singing tunes and guzzling booze, robots did it all in 2020. What could possibly be next?
Those are just a few of the big stories we saw throughout 2020. As we move into 2021, let’s look forward to this new year with faith and hope in the spirit of innovation we saw throughout robotics over the last year. As long as people work together to make the world better through science and technology, we all have something to look forward to.
On a final note – no matter where these discoveries and where these creations in the robotics industry come from, it is our distinct pleasure to deliver the news and insight to you. We can’t wait to see what 2021 has in store!
Best wishes and happy holidays from everyone at RobotShop – and be sure to follow our monthly issues of this blog for more news from the industry all throughout 2021!