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Service Robots in a Variety of Industries, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

The International Federation of Robotics (IFR) defines a service robot as one that operates semi- or fully autonomously to perform services useful to the well-being of humans and equipment, but not one that is used in manufacturing operations.  Service robots are typically mobile in nature.  They may or may not feature an arm or manipulator.  The market for professional service robots was expected to reach $41.5 billion worldwide in 2023 and projected to rise to $84.8 billion by 2028 according to MarketsandMarkets Research.  These include robots for domestic tasks (vacuum cleaning, window washing, lawn mowing); toy robots and hobby systems; education and research; and elderly and handicap assistance.  Dyson, a leading vacuum cleaner maker, launched its first robotic vacuum, which competes with the popular models made by iRobot.  As artificial intelligence becomes evermore embedded in services robots, this market will boom.
Service robots are beginning to enter everyday life, both in the home and in business settings.  For example, iRobot’s home vacuum cleaner robot and the PoolSweep swimming pool cleaner have been on the market for years.  More sophisticated robots are capable of cleaning floors and windows, as well as industrial tanks, pipelines and ship hulls. Advancements in machine learning have enabled service robots to improve their efficiency and effectiveness once they have repeatedly completed specified tasks.  iRobot was acquired by Amazon in 2022, boosting Amazon’s growing business in home automation.
Robots that milk a dairy herd are catching on quickly among U.S. dairy farmers.  Cattle equipped with transponders around their necks decide when and how often they want to be milked, quickly learning to walk up to the closet-sized machine and submit to washing, a laser scan of their bellies and the attachment of mechanical milk cups.  Top manufacturers include Lely and DeLaval, both based in Europe.
Service robots are also popping up in hotels.  Such robots can carry requested items from the lobby or the housekeeping department to guest rooms, navigating elevators, guests and cleaning carts at a rapid clip.  Hotel staff enter a room number and place the requested item inside the top of the robot (everything from razors to newspapers to phone chargers).  This is an important trend that is likely to last, as hotels have encountered difficulties in attracting enough staff members, and the cost of staff has risen significantly in recent years.  The same types of robots can be used for nearby deliveries in a wide variety of settings.

Companies active in the hospital, hotel and restaurant delivery field include:

     In warehousing and logistics, service robots perform brilliantly in selecting, picking and conveying items of merchandise, and sending them on their way to be packed for final delivery.  Amazon famously acquired Kiva Systems for $775 million in 2012, a provider of service robotics for its highly automated warehouses.  In a similar fashion, such robots pick components and send them to the factory floor for final assembly.  Boston Dynamics offers the Stretch service robot with a 10-foot reach, allowing it to load and unload boxes weighing up to 50 pounds.  Stretch had racked up tens of millions of dollars in preorders before its release in 2023.  Ambi Robotics is developing similar technology for parcel induction and sorting with camera vision systems and suction cups to grasp items.  The robots are able to move in almost any direction and reach high or low to mimic human workers’ movements in warehouses.  This eliminates the need to refashion warehouses for the use of robotics.
Robotics will eventually be widely incorporated into products that support people with physical limitations, such as wheelchairs and physical rehabilitation equipment.  As the aged segment of populations in developed nations continues to balloon, these applications will become more and more prevalent.  Virtually all of the world’s advanced economies face massive challenges in the near term from rapidly aging populations, including the U.S., virtually all of Europe and much of Asia, including Japan and China.  In Japan, a plush, baby seal-shaped robot called Paro has sub-skin sensors that respond to stroking and recognizes voices, providing comfort and companionship to elderly people with dementia.
Medical robots are now prevalent, such as the widely used DaVinci surgical robot that is used in removal of cancerous prostate glands, as well as automated equipment that selects pharmaceuticals in exact quantities in order to fill prescriptions for individual patients.  Johnson & Johnson developed an anesthesia-providing robot called Sedasys for patients undergoing colonoscopies. 
Robots will eventually be helpful in a wide variety of medical areas and will help to stem the growth of health care costs.  One of the more interesting new robots, made by Xenex in Austin, Texas, automatically kills potentially lethal bacteria in vacant hospital rooms between patients, using powerful ultraviolet rays.  The costs of infections patients receive while hospitalized is a huge concern, and this is a brilliant use of robotics to create a solution.
Very costly, sophisticated service robots perform tasks that human beings could not do as safely or efficiently.  These tasks range from fighting extremely hot fires, deep underwater exploration and other tasks, demolition, removal of explosives and toxic materials, and many types of surveillance.  In addition, robots are of growing importance for military and police use, ranging from unmanned aerial drones to combat support robots to surveillance robots.

Innovative Companies in Warehouse Robotics Include:

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