Automation is everywhere, with fast-accelerating technological breakthroughs bringing improvements to our homes, our travel, our built environments and, crucially, our workplaces, at a dizzying rate.
There was a time when a remote controlled colour TV and a plumbed-in washing machine was the ultimate home entertainment and labour-saving combination. Now, in all areas of our lives, constant evolution and refinement are transforming how we do things at home and at work.
We’ve taken a look at automated processes in five key global industries for a definitive list of the most innovative, unexpected and eye-catching technologies powering tomorrow’s world.
Read more below to learn how automation is driving change in food & drink, agriculture, construction, healthcare and leisure & hospitality.
As so many food preparation tasks are highly repetitive, it’s no surprise that the food and drink industry was an early adopter of automation.
Labour shortages and maintaining competitive advantage during the pandemic have redoubled the need for smart digital processes. Recently, Pazzi, a Parisian pizzeria, became the world’s first restaurant to be staffed entirely by robots – from order-taking to prepping the dough to boxing the meals.
Grabbing a slice of the automated action has proved highly popular with the venue’s customers, who enjoy the performance as much as the food. Surveys also show that most consumers are happy to have their food cooked by robot chefs, as these are seen as more hygienic than human hands.
Meanwhile, WineCab, an automated wine cellar/sommelier is making a splash with serious oenophiles – storing, protecting, showcasing and retrieving bottles from their prized collections. Combining the latest AI technology with high grade materials, it features a temperature and humidity-controlled environment, facial security settings and a high-speed robotic arm.
Agriculture is another pioneer of automation, with tractors and combine harvesters replacing horses, ploughs and arcane threshers decades ago. The pace hasn’t slackened since and, again, is being powered by pressing current demands.
Following Brexit, UK farmers will no longer be subsidised by the Common Agricultural Policy, while their once-reliable pipeline of seasonal EU workers has been switched off just as vacancy rates nationwide have hit record highs. They must think smart and adopt technology across all activities if they are to achieve sustainability and increased yields through efficiency drives and organic farming.
Among the most eye-catching breakthroughs are Tevel’s flying fruit picker, which can work day and night and even distinguish between ripe and unripe fruit. This airborne android reduces the need to recruit large numbers of staff, organise visas, travel, accommodation and healthcare.
You might be surprised to learn that the supply of a global staple is being safeguarded and its environmental impacts lessened by a ‘Robot Duck’ from Nissan.
The compact unit mimics the natural benefits of wildfowl, which paddle around flooded rice paddy fields, improving water health and reducing the need for herbicides and pesticides. Rotating brushes on its underside replace ducks’ webbed feet, oxygenating the paddy by stirring it up and preventing weeds from taking root. Snacking on insects, Robot Duck’s manure acts as an organic fertiliser.
Other agricultural robots include manure cleaners, automated livestock feeders and improved milking machines. Farm animal health monitoring devices – ‘Fitbits for cattle’ – are also gaining in popularity.
Automation is helping the construction sector solve major challenges, such as a shrinking workforce, labour and skills shortages, rampant inefficiency, stringent Health and Safety demands and widening information gaps between onsite and remote staff.
While it sounds like something out of a comedy sketch, the Automated Bricklaying Robot by Construction Automation is in fact an edge tech system set to revolutionise housebuilding forever. It completed its first bricks and mortar home in 2020, with significant improvements being made since then.
Fastbrick Robotics’ Hadrian X recently broke its own record by laying 200 bricks in an hour. This sounds slow compared to the 900/hour human record, until you consider that the housebricks were 12 times larger than standard ones! The ‘auto brickie’ isn’t limited to these, though – and can handle all sizes, grades and weights. It is claimed that each robot can build the walls for up to 330 homes a year in the right conditions.
And plans are being hatched to ship entire mobile robot factories to construction sites worldwide. The incredible Factory-On-The-Fly functional prototype is the brainchild of tech firm, Odico, whose mini manufacturing units can custom-make a wide range of products needed, including formwork, insulation and tiles, at the touch of a button from locally-sourced materials.
Transported in a standard shipping container, Odico says that Factory-On-The-Fly will not only save on labour costs and avoid skills shortages but also avoid the delays of sourcing and shipping pre-made products from specialist manufacturers.
Healthcare and medicine are constantly evolving disciplines so invention, creativity and discovery have always been key to advancement. However, while precision-tooled instruments and computerisation have long been used in procedures such as surgery and dental work and examinations, analyses and diagnoses, e.g., radiography and blood tests, the sector has traditionally resisted widespread new AI techniques.
However, their adoption is fast picking up pace with the realisation that IT can boost positive clinical outcomes across the wide spectrum of health provision.
For example, robotic therapy pets have been made for patients who are unable to look after an animal but who benefit from interacting with one. The automated companions are particularly effective in dementia sufferers, who are calmed and cheered up by their presence, which also boosts memory, responsiveness and cognitive ability. They may also combat anxiety and loneliness experienced by children in hospital.
The ‘auto pets’ come with no welfare issues, toileting and exercise requirements or food and veterinary bills.
Meanwhile, companion robots for children with cleft lips and palate disorders are providing contextual speech therapy in a gamified, story-building format. Crucially, MySpeechBuddy, makes the lengthy and demanding process a fun activity. With the aid of story-building audio visuals, children are prompted to use and repeat challenging words and vowels collaboratively, building adventures together with family and friends.
Buddy’s cost-effective route to communication is particularly useful for undeveloped regions or less well-off families, where access to corrective surgeries and dental procedures may be limited or delayed.
Of course, we must never lose sight of the need for empathy and the human touch. No automated or remote tech is ever going to supplant this sort of crucial engagement in certain scenarios.
This was highlighted by the recent case of a patient who was told he had days to live by a robot displaying a doctor who was miles away on a screen. Sophisticated digital delivery must be about common sense and emotional intelligence – just because it can be done doesn’t mean that it should be.
The march of digital technology is also changing hospitality business models, giving them new revenue-making and added-value opportunities. Automation is expected to grow in the coming years, with almost three quarters of hoteliers seeing it as key to their post-pandemic recovery, according to reviewpro.com.
Relay the robot butler, from Savioke, can navigate crowds, corridors and lifts to bring room service and other items right to your door. Delivering everything from food and drinks to linens and toothpaste, it is reliable, secure and no tip is required! Relay has proved a hit with guests, who are inspired into sharing positive posts and reviews about venues that have the system inhouse.
Another robot with winning social skills is Eva the automated wedding photographer, by servicerobots.com. Also able to act as receptionist, greeter and information provider, ‘she’ can roam any function snapping guests or delegates – always asking first, of course!
Hailed as the future of photo booths, Eva allows people to pose before delivering prints or texting/emailing shots to them or their friends. If unhappy with the images, guests can edit them or go for a retake. The process is entertaining and inclusive and provides a compelling service extra.
See further examples of automation in the food & drink industry below.
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Pazzi is the world’s first autonomous pizza maker, capable of making 80 pizzas an hour. However, Pazzi learned from the best – a three-time pizza making world champion, no less. Watch the video
Beastro is the world’s first robotic “dark” kitchen, capable of producing multiple dishes in a variety of cuisines – changing the world one dish at a time!
Starship robots are revolutionising food and package deliveries by offering people convenient new services – move over Deliveroo!
An innovative solution for serious oenophiles, the WineCab is a robotic system that takes collecting and experiencing wine to a whole new level. Watch the video
As the first restaurant to automate the preparation of a major food category from start to finish, Creator makes perfect patties, sauces and sensational seasoning.
See further examples of automation in the agriculture sector below.
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Tevel’s flying fruit picker can pick 24 hours a day and distinguish ripe from unripe fruit – the best fruit pickers in the world, by FAR ™ (Flying Autonomous Robots). Watch the video.
Dick by the Small Robot Company can kill individual weeds using electricity – helping to improve optimal yield, maximise profitability and save the backs of those farmhands too!
Agrobot’s bug vaccum navigates reactively across the field to hoover up lygus pests from cotton, strawberry and seed crops – it navigates reactively around the field. All the farmer has to do is start it in the right place and let it roam!
This compact unit mimics the natural benefits of wildfowl, which paddle around flooded rice paddy fields, improving water health and reducing the need for any harmful chemicals. Snacking on insects, the Robot Dock’s manure even acts as an organic fertiliser! Watch the video.
Ted is the first robot dedicated to vineyards, an alternative to the use of herbicides which shows respect to the soil. He even helps to improve working conditions too.
See further examples of automation in the construction industry below.
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This new robot platform dubbed “Didge” provides autonomous ‘eyes-on-site’ 24/7. Not only does this improve safety and efficiency on site, it is also more cost-efficient and more sustainable than the supervisor driving from site-to-site.
The ABLR is a state-of-the-art system that automates the building of brick, block and mortar homes. Whilst the ABLR built its first house in 2020, there have been significant improvements to the robot since then! Watch the video.
Robotic-based automation increases the efficiency of the welding process and helps manufacturers to make more parts in less time and minimise scrap – all whilst increasing quality and improving the working environment!
TyBOT, the rebar tying robot, can tie up to 1,100 intersections an hour. Not only is the TyBOT speedy, it can also be quickly and easily deployed anywhere in the country – a real robot jetsetter!
The ‘factory-on-the-fly’ concept could revolutionise construction sites to feature mini manufacturing units – with robots making custom building components at the push of a button! Watch the video.
See further examples of automation in the healthcare sector below.
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So much more than a stuffed animal, these robopets make the perfect companion for elderly people – bringing the truly joyful experience of owning a real cat or dog! Watch the video.
This controlled drug solution enables pharmacies to automate the picking process – reducing the wait for much needed medication and cutting down those pharmacy queues.
Hugo is on-hand to help overcome the limitations of pre-existing minimally invasive surgical procedures and enhance the capabilities of professionals performing open surgery
Noah the helper robot is designed to fetch medicines, carry documents and get them where they need to be in the hospital – without the need for doctors to be running around the halls!
The speech buddy robot is here to help children with cleft lip or any form of palate disorder – it helps to contextual speech therapy and making it fun all within a gamified story-building format! Watch the video.
See further examples of automation in the leisure & hospitality sector below.
Tap to find out more
Relay the robot butler can navigate corridors and lifts to ensure your items are delivered right to your door – here to delight guests, help staff and boost revenues! Watch the video.
Meet the bartender that served drinks at the Beijing Winter Games. The robot bartender can prepare your cocktail in less than 90 seconds – no need for long queues at the bar!
The video went viral on TikTok of a robot server named ‘Janet’ at Denny’s restaurant, zooming around the corner to deliver the two plates to the table. Quick service and no need for a tip!
The TravelMate suitacase is intelligent and packed with features such as a bluetooth lock, a built-in scale and a GPS tracker. The future of travel perhaps…
Whether it’s a wedding or a business conference, guests will be amazed seeing an autonomous robot photographer ready to take their picture. A standard photo booth has nothing on a photographer robot! Watch the video.
So, there you have it – a complete collation of automation you never knew existed. It shows the scale and diversity of technical innovation that is at play to bring maximum benefits to commercial companies and their customers in every area of manufacture and service provision.
What are the top automations you’ve seen in industry? What technologies could make your operations more efficient? Are your clients telling you what they want or need? Have you asked them?
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