When it comes to robotics, smart technology, internet of thing (IoT) devices and automation in general, the fields that seem to be most talked about are food service, healthcare and transportation. While there's no doubt such industries will be touched by robotics eventually, there are other, less-talked-about industries that are quietly being revolutionized by smart technology.
In fact, if analysts and trade reports are to be believed, it seems likely that futuristic technology will be adopted by behind-the-scenes industries long before you encounter a robotic barista or AI medical professional.
These are the early adopters poised to usher in a new era of humans and robots working side by side, reporting drones, data-driven business and autonomous vehicles.
When talk turns to robots, agriculture isn't typically the first industry that comes to mind, but precision agriculture technology is poised to transform crop farming forever. While it's not standard yet, there are several major players that are making waves in this exciting field, and big ag is already on board.
Using a combination of electronic sensors, spatial information technologies (GPS, GIS, remote sensors), drones, and proprietary software, smart tech in agricultural settings can measure everything from soil quality to plant growth, to moisture levels, offering farmers live insights into their crops, no matter where they are.
Precision agriculture technology also unifies and monitors agriculture hardware, like field robots, autonomous farm vehicles, and automated irrigation systems, giving farmers access to live, data-driven insights they've never had before.
One major obstacle to the widespread adoption of data-based agriculture technology, other than cost, is the lack of internet connectivity in many rural areas. However, proponents of data-based farming are heavily backing the Precision Agriculture Connectivity Act, which seeks to increase rural connectivity, especially in farming communities. The hope is that increased internet service, along with lower cost IoT devices, will increase adoption.
Supply chain management and fulfillment
Amazon's use of smart technology in its warehouses, including autonomous vehicles and robots, is probably the most publicized example of the next generation of supply chain management and fulfillment. When the tech retailer purchased Kiva Systems (and renamed it Amazon Robotics) in 2012, it marked a shift in the industry, transforming the idea of robots with jobs from a "maybe someday" to a "happening-right-now" scenario.
While Amazon is hardly representative of all companies, its adoption of smart tech is likely to trickle down to smaller-scale operations, eventually. Deloitte, one of the largest auditing and financial advisory companies in the world, has noted the inevitability of drones and autonomous robots in supply chain management and fulfillment.
Deloitte's recent report notes that, "Autonomous robotics have the potential to improve operations, and they offer new opportunities to increase productivity, reduce risk, decrease cost and improve data collection, particularly as customer expectations and volumes of packages, shipments and orders reach unsustainable levels for traditional approaches."
Reporting from Supply Chain Management Review, a trade publication, also predicts that fulfillment processes in warehouses will be among the first areas of the industry to adopt IoT technology (including robotics) in a widespread fashion. The increase in online ordering and shipping practically necessitates the increased efficiency smart technology offers, and without it, smaller retailers may face increased difficulty competing with major players.
Industrial jobs and field work
Drone usage and rugged connected devices are already widespread in industrial jobs, and according to a report published by IDC (an independent research firm), "industrial robotic solutions will account for the largest share of robotics spending" over the next five years. Additionally, the firm reported that in 2018, utilities and construction companies will account for the majority of drone spending, which IDC says will be around $925 million and $808 million, respectively.
Drones are being used in construction for land surveying, inspection, progress reporting and planning. Field workers are using them in industries as diverse as logging, oil field inspections, forest fire management and conservation.
Autonomous vehicles and field robots are also poised to make a splash in construction and other industrial fields, with companies such as Built Robotics creating connected autonomous construction machinery.
While some lament the job loss that will result from automating construction work, trends show there is a growing labor shortage in dangerous industries, like construction, which suggests that such a solution is sorely needed.