Robot Renaissance Triggers a Surge in Automaton Workforce

The world is experiencing a skilled labor shortage, and robots are stepping in to fill the void. Last year, some 500,000 industrial robots were added to the global workforce, bringing the total figure to about 3.5 million, according to a new report by the International Federation of Robotics trade group, which says the number of robots added in 2021 exceeds by 22 percent a record set in 2018. The pattern indicates the industrial robotics market will grow from $15.7 billion in 2022 to $30.8 billion by 2027, a CAGR of 14.3 percent, according to the report.

Even now, “the total population of industrial robots exceeds the population of every U.S. city save New York and Los Angeles,” The Wall Street Journal reports, referring to the phenomenon as a “roboconomy.” The “emergence of Industry 5.0” is poised to propel an even greater growth rate in coming years, says the IFR. All of which points to seismic socio-economic changes.

“Even more than we do now, in the future we will depend on robots to grow our food, make our goods, care for our elderly and continue to grow the global economy, predict researchers, economists, engineers and business leaders,” writes WSJ.

Late last month, Elon Musk unveiled what WSJ describes as “an early prototype of a humanoid robot called Optimus (pictured above) that Tesla plans to eventually sell for less than $20,000 and that the company plans to use in car production.”

“It will, I think, turn the whole notion of what’s an economy on its head, at the point at which you have no shortage of labor,” said Musk. (IEEE Spectrum says the bipedal Tesla ’bot is more hype than heft, but LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman tells Yahoo Finance he’s a fan).

So-called “robot density” grew by nearly 30 percent between 2017 and 2020, after a fairly flat decade, according to IFR. “Jay Huang, an analyst at Bernstein, says the past four years are just the beginning of a ‘Robot Renaissance,’ and that this trend of broader and faster adoption of robots will continue,” driven largely by expansion of robots from industrial to service use.

These more complex assignments include things like “picking parts and operating other machines, tasks that require more dexterity, flexibility, and a dollop of artificial intelligence and machine vision,” WSJ writes.

Service robots — basically “every kind of robot that isn’t bolted to the floor” — may soon overtake traditional industrial robots in term of population growth rate, WSJ explains, noting that “while no one keeps a comprehensive global census of service robots, there are more than 1,000 companies worldwide manufacturing them, 10 times the number making industrial robots,” with about 121,000 service robots installed in 2021.

“Within six years, annual robot installations in factories around the world more than doubled,” IFR president Marina Bill said in a news release touting the report.

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