Tech Matters: What is robotics?

Robotics deals with the design, construction, operation, and use of robots, controlled by computer systems. Courtesy #DStv403

JOHANNESBURG - Robotics deals with the design, construction, operation, and use of robots, controlled by computer systems. These technologies are used to develop machines that can replicate human actions and even substitute humans.

Robotic machines or robots ensure humankind’s day-to-day operations are made easier, faster, more convenient, more efficient, and more productive.

AI can purely exist in software technology, but robots must be a moving physical component in the real world. There is a ‘grey area’ with bot-programmes like chatbots, which are technically not robots, but a programme that can interpret human language.

According to the World Economic Forum's latest Future of Jobs report, by 2025 more than half the total time spent on labour will be handled by machines.

Nearly 50 percent of companies expect that by 2022, automation will lead to some reduction in their full-time staff, while 38 percent surveyed, expect to grow their workforces to new productivity-enhancing roles.

Another recent study by PwC estimates that in the United Kingdom, seven million jobs could be lost to machines over the next 20 years, but another 7.2 million could be created!

Here are some examples of how robotics, in the form of drones, can make a difference in the medical and agricultural fields.

The Zipline, which can accelerate from 0 to 100 in a third of a second, on its way to deliver lifesaving blood.

The drones can fly at 110 kilometres an hour, navigate bad weather, and avoid traffic, so they can get to hospitals and pharmacies quickly.

Then there’s Aerobotics, which could define the future of farming in South Africa.

With food security a growing concern, a Cape Town startup is changing how farmers manage their crops.

The drone’s aerial data analytics platform gives the farmer insight and key information about the crop – for example, size and health It can also detect pests and diseases using satellite imagery.

What about the role of robotic technology to drive business benefits?

We may not have heard of it, and probably haven’t seen it in action, but Robotic Process Automation, RPA for short, has been growing at more than 60-percent a year since 2014.

RPA is the use of smart software to carry out manual, repeatable, routine, time-consuming tasks, like invoicing, administrative banking, web analytics, or help desk responses.

Cognitive automation mimics the way the brain works, to help humans make decisions, complete tasks or meet goals.

Cognitive technologies include:

  • Machine learning – which involves computers learning how to do a specific task, without being trained to do so;
  • Natural Language Processing or NLP, where computers learn to understand and use language;
  • Machine vision, which, quite simply, is the ability of a computer to see;
  • Emotion recognition, which allows a programme to read the emotions of the human face;
  • and optical character recognition, which uses software to identify printed characters, for example number plate readers, to name but a few.

All of these can have an impact on how we manage our daily lives.

The International Federation of Robotics predicts that there will be three million industrial robots worldwide by 2020.

There are now, on average, 85 robots per 10,000 employees in the manufacturing industry.

But robotics will create more jobs than it removes, as skills development and training become the focus of a future with robots.

So, learn to live with robots, because Your Tech…Matters.


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