In the last decade, uses for robots have broadened across many sectors - from industrial manufacturing to private home needs to battlefield systems. But, over the next decade, the robotics industry is set to grow exponentially. The robotics market was valued at USD 39.72 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow at a rate of over 25% in the next five years.

The emergence of robotic technology is transforming the way businesses are conducting their operations. Investment in mobile robotic companies seeking to automate the movement of goods within warehouses, fulfilment centres and manufacturing facilities is rising fast.

The immense impact of this technology will be felt for both mainstream businesses and small-scale start-up operations. Although robotics advancements will be important in many industries, the five key sectors we'll see the biggest disruption in are healthcare, manufacturing, food and agriculture, cleaning and sanitation, and natural system monitoring.

Building more sustainable processes

While the primary goal for industries and companies has been utilising robots to improve processes and become more efficient and profitable, it's also becoming more evident that robotics will be a key way to drive sustainability.

The Growbot, a tree planting robot created by SkyGrow, demonstrates how robots can help in the fight against climate change. It can plant trees 10 times faster than a human, thus reducing labour by around 40% and slashing the cost per tree by roughly half. SkyGrow plans to manufacture 4,500 Growbots to help recover forests around the globe.

Robotics have also proven to be critical in the recycling of waste from all sectors. Recycling robots have the potential to make approximately 2,000 correct material picks per hour in comparison with humans, who can make about 800 picks per hour.  AMP Robotics is an American company leading this change to the recycling infrastructure, making robots that combine computer vision, machine learning and automation to ensure that more higher-value recyclables are collected. This means that not only is there greater profitability, but there's also less waste, leading to a circular economy that's good for both planet and profit.

Apple similarly developed its own disassembly robot to recycle discarded iPhones. ‘Daisy' can take apart old iPhones and sort out their high-quality components to re-use in other products. Reducing waste and saving valuable resources, Daisy pulls apart over 1 million iPhones per year at a rate of about 200 per hour.

This combination of robotics, computer vision and machine learning has potential applications beyond the recycling industry - automotive scrap and construction waste are other areas where there's interest in similar systems.

Robots are also enabling companies in the manufacturing sector to become more sustainable through waste and energy reduction. Approximately 60% of manufacturers worldwide are using robotics to help them in their processes to increase productivity, efficiency and product quality.

Robots aid businesses because they don't require as much energy to operate as humans do. Where humans need sufficient lighting and heat, robots can work in cold and dark conditions. This drastically reduces the amount of energy used in the manufacturing production process. In fact, it's estimated that swapping robots for humans can reduce lighting energy alone by up to 20%.

Moving towards a more sustainable economy

These developments in robotics can also help to meet the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The UN has set 17 SDGs, which are urgent calls for action to implement strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality and spur economic growth, all while tackling climate change and working to preserve oceans and forests. The aim is for these to be implemented by 2030.

It's clear that robotics can assist with many of the SDGs that are linked with sustainability and a greener economy, and are therefore pivotal in addressing our shared global challenges. And the good news is that moving towards a more sustainable economy has the potential to unlock USD 12 trillion in market opportunities.

The numbers tell us that business will fail in a world that is falling apart due to climate change, resource scarcity and growing inequality. So robotics are a real opportunity for businesses to make a huge shift towards a better, more sustainable future for all.

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