SA sees rise of service robots as AI adoption advances

Posted by Flux on 

6 February 2024

There has been slower adoption of service robots in Africa in comparison to its Western counterparts. However, SA is beginning to see growth in the adoption of professional services robots, amid increased acceleration in artificial intelligence (AI) adoption.

This is according to Faeeza Khan, head of research at local trends research firm Flux Trends, commenting on global market research consultancy IDTechEx’s latest research on service robots. 

According to the report, service robots are becoming increasingly popular across the globe, due to their potential to revolutionise many aspects of the modern world − from optimising industrial efficiency, to improving everyday life.

While the service robot market is at a much earlier stage of development than traditional industrial robots, there is increasing effort within this space to promote the adoption of service robots across industries, notes IDTechEx.

Unlike the traditional robots used in industrial applications, service robots are primarily designed to support people in their daily lives. ‘Service robot’ covers a range of applications and types of robots, from logistics and delivery robots, social robots, cleaning robots, disinfection robots, robotic chefs/kitchen robots, robotic waiters/restaurant robots, agricultural robots and underwater robots.

The growing relevance of research and development in this industry is predicted to reach a yearly market of $150 billion by 2044, allowing business prosperity and technological advancements to flourish.

Khan tells ITWeb that the shift toward robot- and AI-powered services in SA is propelled by advancements in research and development, and increased budget allocation for such initiatives, as more businesses realise the value of service robots.

“There has been a slower adoption of service robots in SA and Africa than the more industrialised nations, but we are beginning to see growth, particularly in the mining, automotive and agricultural sectors.

“The average cost of service robots is declining, increasing the appeal to local companies. This cost reduction is due to economies of scale, improved manufacturing processes, the availability of more affordable components, and the growing availability of robotics-as-a-service (RAAS) providers locally,” notes Khan.

RAAS, a business model in which robots can be rented or leased on an hourly or monthly basis, is making service robots more accessible for smaller-scale operations across various industries in SA, she adds.

Faeeza Khan, head of research at Flux Trends. 

Among the benefits of the emerging technology for businesses, is their enhanced capabilities, increased speed and efficiency, reduced human error, strength, increased accuracy rates and the ability to work around the clock without fatigue, she notes.

“Adoption within the education sector is another contributing factor. The increasing introduction of robotics at school levels will contribute to the growing interest in robotics as a career choice, which will lead to more local innovation. The key to a successful outcome locally is collaboration between researchers, robotics manufacturers, private and public sector,” continues Khan.

According to IDTechEx, robots in logistics is the most common use across the globe, such as in warehouses or airports, mostly in the form of automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and autonomous mobile robots (AMRs). 

They allow for manual labour, such as lifting and stacking, to be completed more efficiently and with more accuracy, while providing a uniform aesthetic and minimising the safety risks that could accompany human labour in these places.

“The popularity of AGVs and AMRs has increased greatly since COVID-19, where businesses strived for contactless work and transportation, something which these robots were able to provide. 

“More recently, and in the face of labour shortages, logistical robots have proved to be efficient for outdoor applications, opening up many more opportunities for their use. For example, the use of drones for delivery has the power to reduce road traffic and subsequent emissions, while their impressive, eye-catching quality draws people in with their futuristic look,” notes the report.

The market research report from IDTechEx, “Mobile robotics in logistics, warehousing and delivery 2024-2044“, explores how logistical robots are flexible in ways humans are not and why these machines are worthy of investment.

The second largest application of service robots are those intended for personal and household use, such as robotic vacuums, says IDTechEx.

“The number of hours of work these robots can do not only allow owners to save time and energy, but modernises the home and creates fantastic points of interest and discussion for those who have not yet invested in such technology. 

“Despite already being used in households today, their design and ever-growing abilities will lead to future increase in popularity – changing the way ordinary tasks are carried out.”

Within agricultural markets, service robots are developed to reduce farmers’ workload, as they can continue to work where human efficiency might decrease, generating increased output over time. 

IDTechEx has seen significant investments in agbot technologies (robots deployed for agricultural purposes) which will lead to more robust solutions in the future.

Desire for companionship

The attraction of the innovation and hype that surrounds robotics can be further seen in the more niche areas of service robots, such as companionship, restaurant revamping and underwater exploration. 

There is lower demand in this market, with higher technical difficulty, as they require intricate designs to accommodate specific areas of use.

In social settings, the implementation of service robots is predicted to become more visible in restaurants, where food can be served by robotic waiters in an environment that will attract customers hungry for innovative experiences. 

“As IDTechEx predicts the implementation of service robots to become more frequent, so too will their numerous global benefits. 

“With the use of logistical robots on a larger scale, companies will not only save time and monetary costs, but will start to see investment opportunities elsewhere, such as in their own research and development. 

“This effect will undoubtedly trickle down and benefit consumers worldwide, where the efficiency of service robots can be the exciting inspiration for a more cost-effective future across big and small businesses.”

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