How climbing robots could usher in a new age of automation

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Sean Fleming, Senior Writer, Formative Content

  • $10 trillion will likely be invested in automation and robotics by 2030.
  • But ageing warehouses struggle to adopt new technologies.
  • Step forward the SqUID – a new type of box-carrying robot that can be retrofitted to any space, and can even climb the racks.

Robotics and automation are on the rise – $10 trillion will have been invested in these technologies by 2030, according to some forecasts – and now a new kind of ‘climbing’ robot looks set to transform ageing warehouses.

Automation is all very well, but if your business has out-of-date infrastructure, the chances are the new technology won’t fit. So how can a business take advantage of the opportunities new digital technologies offer, without having to build expensive new warehouses?

This is where Israeli firm, BionicHIVE, steps in.

Its recently unveiled SqUID robot will, the company says, work with a “standard pallet rack, at any working facility”.

The SqUID can navigate around a warehouse autonomously, thanks to on-board sensors and machine learning, transporting goods wherever they are needed. The robot, which can carry weights of up to 15.8 kilogrammes, can then climb the existing racks of shelves within the warehouse, by attaching itself to vertical sets of rails and runners.

Retrofitting the future

There are many solid business reasons for investing in automation. In many lower-margin sectors, such as food retail, warehouse robots are increasingly commonplace. The UK online-only grocer, Ocado, is known for its use of robotics and is providing its technology to other grocers, notably Kroger in the US.

But COVID-19 has accelerated the digital transition, according to Susan Lund of the McKinsey Global Institute. “Firms are not just going back pre-pandemic, but completely reimagining how they work,” she told The Economist. And automation, in particular, is high on the corporate agenda.

A graph to show the employment trends for jobs in the U.S. at high risk of automation from 2007- 2018
This study shows that computer operations are at the highest risk of automation. Image: Future of Jobs 2020

What is the World Economic Forum doing about the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

The World Economic Forum was the first to draw the world’s attention to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the current period of unprecedented change driven by rapid technological advances. Policies, norms and regulations have not been able to keep up with the pace of innovation, creating a growing need to fill this gap.

The Forum established the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network in 2017 to ensure that new and emerging technologies will help—not harm—humanity in the future. Headquartered in San Francisco, the network launched centres in China, India and Japan in 2018 and is rapidly establishing locally-run Affiliate Centres in many countries around the world.World Economic Forum | Centre for the Fourth Industrial R…

The global network is working closely with partners from government, business, academia and civil society to co-design and pilot agile frameworks for governing new and emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous vehicles, blockchain, data policy, digital trade, drones, internet of things (IoT), precision medicine and environmental innovations.

Learn more about the groundbreaking work that the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network is doing to prepare us for the future.

Want to help us shape the Fourth Industrial Revolution? Contact us to find out how you can become a member or partner.

The shift to hybrid workplaces

By 2025, 85 million jobs may be displaced by a shift in the division of labour between humans and machines, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Future of Jobs report. The report also states that while there will be more jobs created than destroyed by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, some old roles are disappearing faster than new ones are emerging.

One of the most obvious benefits of warehouse automation, as with any sector, is that it eases many issues relating to employing a human workforce: there are tasks better suited to robots, such as those involving repetitive or dangerous activities. Plus, in countries dealing with labour shortages, robots can take some of the pressure off hiring and wage costs.

A graph to show companies' expected changes to the workforce by 2025
How the workforce looks set to change. Image: Future of Jobs Report

The Future of Jobs report also points out that there is now a double wave of disruption facing workers, thanks to the combination of automation and the pandemic. The increased use of automation will lead 43% of businesses to reduce the size of their workforce. But by 2025, the report says, there will be a roughly equal split between humans’ and machines’ workloads.


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