Pittsburgh Robotics Network: Robot adoption maturing beyond factories

Robot Business

Robot on building

Pittsburgh Robotics Network: Robot adoption maturing beyond factories

Elías Lundström
Corporate Communication & Public Affairs

The demand for robots in the US is increasing in new sectors such as infrastructure, construction, agriculture, and healthcare according to the interim executive director of the Pittsburg Robotics Network.

Robots are no longer just confined within the walls of factories. Today, adoption is spreading to a range of new industries and applications, and robotic companies in the US are increasingly serving these new markets.

In the robotics hub of Pittsburgh, these trends are also felt:

“We are seeing increasing adoption of robots in sectors outside manufacturing, especially in infrastructure and construction, agriculture, and healthcare,” says Jennifer Apicella, Interim Executive Director of the Pittsburgh Robotic Network, affirming the trend of robotic supplier diversification highlighted in the latest US market study by HowToRobot in collaboration with the Association for Advancing Automation (A3).

“Field robotics is huge in the US, and we are starting to see a wider range of use cases and solutions becoming more fully integrated. Adoption is also much more mature than 20 years ago, but we still have some way to go,” she adds.

Investment slowdown spells “less hype” and “more customer focus” in robotics

While robots are gaining ground in emerging areas, the stakes have been raised for businesses providing those technologies to become self-funding and profitable. The amount of venture capital invested in robotics companies in the US shrunk by 61% during the first two quarters of 2023 compared to the same period of 2022 according to data from Dealroom.

Robotics, overall, is seeing less hype in 2023 than other emerging technologies such as generative AI, Jennifer Apicella says. This also means many robotics companies are approaching the “valley of death”, as she puts it. It’s not that investors won’t invest – but the bar is higher than usual, she says:

“Despite the reduced opportunity for venture capital, we are still seeing some robotics companies have great success with attracting capital,” says Jennifer Apicella, elaborating further:

“The number one factor for the robotics companies that succeed is that they have paying customers and a team focusing on the market.”

“Too often we see early-stage robotics companies with a heavy focus on the technology. While the technology is complex and definitely needs attention, it's important to iterate product development that is equally informed by real-world customer usage – even in those early stages, prototypes and testing should be heavily influenced by market needs,” she adds.

Industries crossing the chasm

Some of the emerging areas where robotics is successfully picking up are infrastructure and construction according to Jennifer Apicella.

Overall, a total of 204 US-based robotics and automation companies are serving the construction industry – amounting to 12% of the US robotics industry according to the 2023 market study by HowToRobot. Even more – 318 companies or 19% of the robotics industry – are serving the Energy sector.

“There is increasing adoption of robotics, especially for inspection and maintenance in areas where it is dangerous or difficult for humans to go,” she says and highlights a few examples: Inspection of nuclear power plants, sewage systems, and bridges or rebar tying for large construction projects. Other applications at an earlier stage include excavation, bricklaying, drywall installation, surface finishing, and more, she adds.

The healthcare sector is also seeing increasing interest from robotics companies. Of the 1658 robotics and automation businesses in the US, 495 of them (30%) offer solutions, technologies, and expertise to the healthcare sector.

“Robotics is being used in a wide range of areas within healthcare to help augment staff,” says Jennifer Apicella and points out some examples: robots to simulate or perform surgery, cleaning and disinfection robots, robot prosthetics with sensing abilities, social and telepresence robotics, mobile robots for internal transport of patients or goods in hospital buildings, and much more.

Another sector where robotics is emerging is agriculture. 193 robot and automation businesses in the US are serving this sector – equal to about 12% of the US robotics industry according to HowToRobot’s market study.

“There isn’t any part of agriculture today that cannot be helped by robot and automation technologies,” says Jennifer Apicella.

“The applications are many and widespread, including field and precision robots doing everything from seeding to planting, weeding, watering, crop handling to autonomous tractors, vertical farming, and greenhouse automation,” she concludes.