Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Robots are Coming, The Robots are Coming

I couldn't resist the play on that infamous movie of the 1960s: The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming.

Here's a census report from IEEE Spectrum, the professional journal for electrical engineers:
First, some nomenclature. The study divides robots in two categories: industrial robots and service robots. The first category includes welding systems, assembly manipulators, silicon wafer handlers -- you know, that kind of big, heavy, expensive, many-degrees-of-freedom machines. The second category consists of two subcategories: professional service robots (things like bomb-disposal bots, surgical systems, milking robots) and personal service robots (vacuum cleaners, lawn mowers, all sorts of robot hobby kits and toys).
As you can see from the chart above, the number of industrial robots grew to 1.3 million in 2008 from about 1 million in 2007, and service robots grew to 7.3 million from 5.5 million. So for industrial and service robots combined it's a 32 percent increase from 2007 to 2008, and that's huge. ...

For Industrial Robots:

Of the 2008 robot sales, more than half, or about 60,300 units, went to Asian countries (including Australia and New Zealand). The world's largest market, Japan, continues to see a decline, with supply falling by 8 percent to about 33,100 units. But Korea and emerging markets like China and the Southeast Asian countries and India saw increases in sales, with Korea adding 11,600 robots, up 28 percent from 2007, China adding 7,900 units, an increase of 20 percent, and Taiwan's robot acquisitions surging by 40 percent.

In the Americas, the robot market grew by 17,200 units, or 12 percent less than in 2007. Auto industry, the main robot buyer, retreated and robot sales plunged.

Robot sales in Europe stagnated at about 35,100 units, with Germany taking the lead, adding 15,200 robots, 4 percent more than in 2007. Italy, Europe's second largest market after Germany, added 4,800 units and France, 2,600 robots. ...

For Service Robots:

30 percent (20,000 units) for defense, security, and rescue applications; 23 percent for milking robots; 9 percent for cleaning robots; 8 percent each for medical and underwater robots; 7 percent for construction and demolition robots; 6 percent for robot platforms for general use; and 5 percent for logistic systems.

As for service robots for personal use: 4.4 million units sold for home applications (vaccumming and lawn mowing bots) and about 2.8 million for entertainment and leisure (toy robots, hobby systems, and educatoinal bots).

And here's an eye opening number: In 2008 alone about 940,000 vacuum cleaning robots (like the iRobot Roomba 562 Pet Series above) were sold, almost 50 percent more than in 2007. That's 1 million new living rooms getting cleaned by robots!

Finally, a forecast. The report estimates that 49,000 professional service robots and 11.6 million personal service robots will be sold between 2009 and 2012.
A change in "modern life" is coming and it will come with the blink of an eye. Robots are moving in. Within 10 years somebody on every block will have a few. Withing 20 years everybody will have at least one. And in 30 years they will outnumber us and start to boss us around. Call this the ultimate "revenge of the nerds"!

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