ROBOTS ARE MODERNIZING HEALTHCARE
One great thing about robotics is that when you are aware of it, you know that it's improving your life. Cultural acceptance is really key here, and our ability to touch and interact with the robots is important. There are a number of areas in the global economy where people might actually be surprised to learn about the participation of robots.
For example, people have talked about the concept of self-driving cars for decades. If you happen to drive anywhere near San Francisco, you’ll probably end up driving next to one made by Google; I have, several times. When you see one, you know what you're looking at, but I don't think that anyone expected to be commuting alongside self-driving cars in a public corridor so soon— and yet we are. And of course there is iRobot’s Roomba home robot vacuum cleaner, which has now sold more than 7 million units in over 50 countries worldwide. There is even a neat start-up company called Romotive that has developed a small, mobile robotic platform that uses your iPhone as its “brain.”
There are many ways that robots are increasingly being used to modernize healthcare and related services. Intuitive Surgical’s da Vinci surgical robots are used by doctors in the U.S. as the standard of care to perform minimally invasive prostatectomies. They’re also used here, and to a lesser extent around the world, to perform hysterectomies, lung surgery, and certain cardiac, ear, nose, and throat procedures, too.
Another great example comes from iRobot, a company whose RP-VITA clinical remote presence robot utilizes a mounted iPad to allow offsite specialists to interact with patients and administer care. This platform enables doctors and practitioners to administer more personalized services than would be available through the web or stand-alone kiosks. Eventually these robots might make their way into patients’ own homes, or other locations like elderly care facilities, just as robotic home vacuum cleaners and floor washing units are today.
MILITARY AND PUBLIC SAFETY ARE BURGEONING MARKETS
One sector that has significantly increased its adoption of robotics is the military, where they’ve essentially gone from zero ground robots in 2002 to over 5,000 ground robots today. The expectation is that over time robots will be used more and more for reconnaissance, battlefield support, and sentry duty. This is in addition to the tasks commonly associated with them now, such as the detection and disposal of explosive devices, or radar tracking and missile defense. These robots will be fully autonomous, enable remote awareness, and be capable of going places, determining what's happening in their environment, and transmitting information about it as needed. There’s every expectation that they will operate close to military personnel in the field and act as a force multiplier.
Similarly, we expect to see robots make an impact in the public safety area. The adoption of modern information technology within the first responder community has been lagging behind other segments, but with the FirstNet initiative (a single, nationwide interoperable public safety broadband network being built and operated to help police, firefighters, emergency medical service professionals and other public safety officials perform their jobs and stay safe) becoming viable, there are a number of robotics companies—established firms and startups—ready to provide robotic products that can help make a difference.
For instance, there are several companies pursuing the concept of quadrocopters to be used in emergency response situations for military and commercial applications. These are unmanned, remote-controlled flying drones that can serve as reconnaissance tools to provide real-time assessments and monitor dangerous situations. Another similar idea is iRobot’s throwable surveillance robot concept. Imagine a five-pound robot with cameras and sensors that emergency personnel can literally toss into a burning building or a hostage situation and, through the use of a tablet, immediately have on-the-ground situational awareness and two-way communications capabilities with people on site, without putting lives at risk.