Service Robots: Enhancing Experiences from Industrial to Healthcare
The development of low-cost electronics and machine learning technology has created a rapid proliferation of service robots on the market. Service robots are a broadly defined group of automated equipment that assists humans with everyday tasks. Service robots tend to exclude traditional industrial automation applications. However, it’s not uncommon for service robots to be deployed in industrial environments. Service robots handle repetitive, dirty, and sometimes hazardous tasks. You won’t find these robots assembling products or palletizing boxes. However, they’re still highly valuable machines to both industrial and non-industrial end-users.
This article will cover the types of service robots in today’s market, featured industries for service robots, and how to determine if a service robot is right for you.
Types of Service Robots
As a broad category, there are numerous types of service robots. The breadth of available service robot options is able to cover a wide variety of applications across several industries. Regardless of the application, assisting humans with mundane tasks is the unifying feature of these robots. Let’s take a closer look at the most common types of service robots.
Industrial Service Robots
Industrial applications are one of the most common use cases for service robots. The direct impact on productivity and efficiency makes service robots ideal for improving non-production workflows. The industrial sector features a wide range of potential applications. This is reflected in the types of service robots deployed by modern manufacturers. Common industries for industrial-use service robots include:
Logistics Service Robots
Industrial manufacturing facilities offer plenty of opportunities for transport and logistics tasks. The large floor space and complex production environment provide a need for parts and equipment transportation. Sometimes, these tasks are handled by people. However, these tasks are repetitive, mundane, and do not require complex decision-making. As such, service robots are often deployed for logistics tasks instead.
Logistics applications may include the following tasks:
- Delivering parts from storage to workbenches
- Staging parts for shipping
- Moving products from one workstation to another
Cleaning robots are common in dirty manufacturing environments. Contaminants can damage equipment and sensitive electronics. For this reason, it’s important to keep facilities clean. Manufacturing plants are often too large to justify using several people to clean floors continuously. Instead, cleaning robots can take on this task. A fleet of cleaning robots can be deployed to autonomously clean the available floor space. This helps reduce the risks to people and equipment.
Due to the development of machine vision technology, manufacturers are benefitting from inspection robots. While visual tasks are well suited for people, inspection tasks tend to be mundane and repetitive. Manufacturers are now commonly using robots for their inspection tasks. Robots can be programmed to look for certain features and characteristics. When these features are out of tolerance, a person is notified to take a closer look and correct the potential issue.
Medical Service Robots
Medical robots are highly valued in hospitals and scientific sectors. By taking on non-essential tasks, they free up nurses and doctors to engage in more complex assignments. The urgent need for medical staff around the world has only increased the need for service robots to fill in the gaps. Common markets for medical service robots include:
- Home Health
- Elderly Care
- Outpatient Care
Transportation is a ubiquitous task in medical facilities. Labs and samples need to be transported to testing departments. Equipment constantly needs to be refilled in stocking locations. Additionally, medication needs to find its way to patient rooms. These tasks often fall to medical staff–especially in the “last mile” from the stocking or delivery location to the patient’s room. This additional load takes medical staff away from primary tasks like:
- Face-to-face patient care
- Ordering additional tests
- Interacting with patients’ families
- Reviewing medical records
This additional load can lead to poorer patient outcomes. Service robots help balance the workload of medical staff so they can focus on core tasks. This helps them achieve the best results for their patients.
Telemedicine is a new and growing phenomenon in the medical industry. The availability of high-speed internet and cost-efficient robotics allow doctors and nurses to see patients from anywhere in the world. This helps close the service gap in high-need areas or facilities with staffing shortages. Teladoc robots can be found rolling into patient rooms with a screen and webcam for the doctor to communicate with the patient. An internet connection allows the doctor to both communicate and handle administrative tasks remotely.
Hospitals and scientific facilities require medical-grade cleanliness. Disinfection robots reduce the levels of viruses and infections on surfaces around the facility. They can do this autonomously day and night. This leads to a clean facility that is safer for both healthy and immunocompromised patients. Sterilization robots come in two main types: UV and solution-based. Sterilization robots spray disinfecting solutions on surfaces with a spray nozzle. Alternatively, UV types use a UV light as a disinfecting agent.
Sterilization robots also make facilities safer for staff. For example, these robots are often deployed to patient rooms once they are discharged. The robot can clean the room before and after housekeeping arrives. One cleaning is for the safety of housekeeping, the second cleaning is for the safety of the next patient. This reduces the room change over time and allows more patients to be admitted per day.
Commercial Service Robots
Some of the most exciting developments for service robots are found in commercial markets. New and novel applications of service robots are emerging in food, retail, and service sectors. Service robots in commercial applications allow companies to provide a higher level of service for their customers. Common market sectors for service robots include:
- Food Delivery
- Customer Service
Transportation applications are popular commercial applications. Automated delivery to employees and customers reduces cycle time and allows people to focus on more complex tasks. For example, robotic food delivery services are emerging in tech sectors around the world. Robotic delivery robots can pick up your order and deliver your food right to your doorstep. Delivery robots are useful for employees as well. Service robots that deliver cleaning supplies and fresh linen are highly valuable for the hospitality sector. Automated delivery reduces room changeover time. This allows hotels to check in more guests than was possible before.
Advancements in artificial intelligence have allowed for the growth of service robots in customer-facing roles. These can be tasks like:
- Customer Guidance
- Information Services
- Host and Waiting Services
Automated waiting robots became more common during the COVID-19 pandemic. While they were too expensive to own for most restaurants, a Robots-as-a-Service model lowered the barrier to entry for a commonly thin-margin industry. Guidance and informational robots automate repetitive tasks and give customers quick access to resources without having to flag down an employee.
Is a Service Robot Right for You?
Service robots fill much-needed gaps in traditional and non-traditional industries for robotics. Whether a service robot is right for you can depend on a few factors. Consider whether the following circumstances apply to you and if a service robot might fill a need for you.
Employees Are Spending too Much Time on Non-Essential Tasks
One of the most common reasons for deploying service robots is to assist employees with everyday tasks. An employee’s duties include both core and ancillary tasks. For example, nurses have core tasks that include:
- Recording Vitals
- Administering Medication
Ancillary tasks like transporting medication remove nurses from core tasks. These core tasks are where nurses are most valuable. Service robots can fill the gap here to handle transportation tasks. This allows the nursing staff to spend more time on patient care and related duties.
This type of example can be expanded to other industries. Logistics workers can be aided by order-picking robots to stage products for shipping. Service robots can deliver parts to assembly technicians so they can focus on building great products. The key concern is to ensure that the service robot makes the worker’s job easier–not more difficult. Service robots should make your employees feel more valuable–not less important. Service robots allow your workers to focus on what’s more important–not spend time on less meaningful tasks.
You Are Struggling to maintain a Full Labor Force
Manufacturing and service industries have been experiencing labor issues over the past decade. The COVID-19 pandemic only accelerated the labor pool’s shift away from these traditional industries toward other opportunities. This shift has put a strain on many industries to keep up with the increased demand for goods and services. Service robots help modern companies meet this demand.
Teladoc and waiter bots are examples of service bot applications designed to meet this issue head-on. It’s important to ensure the application of a service bot won’t hurt the customer experience. Service robots shouldn’t frustrate or confuse customers. They should provide them with a high-quality experience. It’s important to ensure the deployment of a service robot for your application will be able to achieve this level of performance.
Service robots are capable of providing a great customer experience while increasing the productivity of your employees. There are service robots available to meet a broad array of needs across industries. The details of your business and the employee-robot-customer dynamics will influence the effectiveness of service robots for your application. For the right application, the positive impact will be valuable for your employees, customers, and your business.
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