Think back to February 2020, when you could hug friends and family, shake hands with colleagues and not have to jump back when encountering someone in a shopping aisle.
Now, nine months and a pandemic later, we rely on virtual meetings, social distancing and the regular disinfection of shared spaces such as offices, Uber rides and, public transport.
None of this would be possible, however, without the help of robots and robotic technology to reduce contact between people and minimise human exposure to the virus, as we recently wrote about in the farming industry. Where reducing human interaction to save lives is a necessity, robots and robotics have stepped in to support us to get jobs done safely, across many sectors.
Minimising in-person interaction and maintaining social distancing has been essential in reducing the spread of the virus. In many industries, robots can help to reduce human interaction. Kiwibot, for example, has been using robots to deliver food, toiletries, and even face masks and sanitiser to people’s homes. The rover-style delivery robots can work around the clock and remove a vector of human-to-human transmission, allowing people to get essential products, with reduced risk.
Robots are also being used to deliver essential medical supplies where they are needed most. Zipline, a medical drone company is using unmanned aerial drones to accelerate contactless delivery in Rwanda and Ghana. Throughout the crisis, drones have been deployed to get medical supplies from warehouses to local clinics in the area before they run out, limiting interaction and saving lives.
As the need for frequent cleaning and sanitising has risen, robotics engineers have stepped in to create solutions to meet the demand for increased hygiene standards. UVD Robots, a Danish company manufacturing ultra-violet-light-disinfection robots, has been shipping machines to hospitals around the world for additional deep cleaning services. With robots deployed to continuously disinfect surfaces, hospitals are able to improve hygiene standards and minimise the likelihood of the virus spreading.
Cleaner bots are more useful than ever right now – and not just in hospitals. Robots are being used in workplaces that are manufacturing and delivering essential products, such as factories and warehouses to ensure products make their way safely to supermarkets and stores. By increasing the frequency of cleaning beyond human staff, organisations can help protect employees and the wider community.
During the pandemic, it has become clear that increasing investment in robotics is really an investment in protecting human lives. Robots are able to perform tasks that humans cannot do safely, or help by reducing the workload of time-poor frontline staff. It has become clear that robots are here to help, with the World Economic Forum predicting the industry will create 97 million jobs in five years, demonstrating how job displacement fears are exaggerated.
The communications challenge around this persists, however, and more carefully nuanced strategic storytelling will be required to ensure that humans become more accustomed to the idea of machines supporting people. Even if we can eventually go back to hugging our friends and family in future.