Rise of the robotsAs human interaction is kept to a minimum the world over, machines are increasingly being drafted in to fill the void. From China to Russia and the US, robots and automation are rapidly becoming an integral part to how some companies adapt to social distancing. With less humans on site, bots can be deployed for essential cleaning, shelf stocking and deliveries for businesses of all shapes and sizes.
Tracy Stannard, co-owns Broad Branch Market in Washington DC. Last month, the store stopped allowing customers inside, switching to only delivery or pick up.
"I think today we have five robots running, we've had up to 10, it depends on their availability, and right now some are out mapping, so the distance gets further," says Stannard.
Brad Bogolea is the CEO and Co-founder of Simbe Robotics, a specialist in autonomous mobile machines. He believes by taking humans out of the equation, robotic shelf stockers and cleaners like the firm's Tally robot could have an immeasurable impact on stemming the virus’ spread.
"Tally's a fully autonomous mobile robot that's designed to really help retailers better take inventory within retail stores. The goal of Tally is to help ensure our product is always stocked in the right place and has the right price. So with COVID-19, we think there's a stronger case now more than ever for automation and better data within retail. We think that will drive greater adoption of robotics."
But could this acceleration towards robotics and automation have a detrimental impact on workers? Companies like Brain Corp insist that humans still have a place in the workforce.
"We're not trying to replace a human, and the companies that generally do try to do that in robotics often fail, because humans are so flexible and can perform so many other tasks," says the firm's product vice president Phil Duffy
"We are an advanced tool that allows them to perform at a higher productive level that really enables them to focus on the higher value tasks that robots aren't good at," he adds.
Whatever one's view, the coronavirus crisis only looks set to accelerate this drive towards automation. In Russia workplaces and bus shelters are having intelligent temperature checking turnstiles installed, and in China a 1.3 million square metre 5G-powered smart port can unload and store cargo automatically.