Robots in the Workplace: Learning New Ways to Harness the Future

April 9, 2024

Robotics has been around for decades, but recent advancements in artificial intelligence and sensor technology have led to a surge in the capabilities and applications of this field of study. This evolution has had considerable impacts on nearly every industry and is changing how work is being done. But with these changes comes the need to fill a growing talent gap for professionals who can integrate robotics into daily work life tasks, optimizing the industry with a focus on improved worker safety and efficiency of operations without massive job replacement. 

Using Robotics for Workplace Duties 

Robots excel at repetitive tasks, working with precision and speed to create faster production lines and improve quality control. For example, robots are commonplace in car manufacturing, where they weld, paint, and perform other repetitive tasks with unmatched consistency to the improved safety of human workers. However, the use of robots also brings concerns to workers who fear job displacement due to a new rise in work automation. 

The use of robots is expanding beyond its commonplace use in manufacturing to industries such as construction and retail. While previous iterations of robots in the workplace were essentially kept separate from the worker and the public, newer versions are being designed to integrate into the working environment through collaboration, autonomous operations, and even being physically worn by an employee. These changes, while progressive and potentially beneficial and cost-effective, have created a knowledge gap in how these technologies can and should be used to benefit the workplace and protect workers.  

Safety and Regulations for Workplace Robots 

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) established the Future of Work Initiative to respond to these changes. This initiative aims to encourage research and practical approaches to address future robot-related occupational safety and health concerns in the workplace, work, and workforce. Through partnerships with external researchers and leading companies, NIOSH is working to establish best practices and safety standards for working with robots. The four goals of the initiative are to: compile research on the future of work; cover current and relevant projects; promote research among new industries; and connect trends in the workplace. With proper discovery and management of robotics use in the workplace, lower costs can be handed down to the consumer, employee safety can be improved, and better efficiency of operations can be achieved. And while some tasks may be replaced with robot workers, allocation of human workers to different tasks or management of technology may be an option instead of total job displacement, providing the best-case scenario. 

The Future of Work Robots 

One of the most compelling potential uses of robots in the workplace is Figure 01, a humanoid robot created by Figure AI that combines human-like dexterity and advanced AI. Like other robots, Figure 01 could be used to assist with assembly lines in manufacturing, stock shelves in warehouses, or deliver packages in logistics. Its novelty is found, however, in its nimble hands and advanced AI that make it suitable for jobs requiring precision handling, such as assembling electronics or handling medical equipment. With its ability to understand to its surroundings, Figure 01 may soon be able to seamlessly collaborate with human workers and free them up for more strategic or creative work. Still under development, Figure 01 has earned financial backing from Microsoft, Nvidia, and Jeff Bezos.  

In the present, Medline, a major medical supply manufacturer and distributor in the U.S., was the first U.S. company to implement a robotic order fulfillment solution technology created by AutoStore. Instead of humans walking a massive warehouse, a network of mobile robots glide across a grid structure to retrieve individual items based on order requirements. Medline’s use of AutoStore has resulted in a 30% boost in picking accuracy and faster order processing times, enabling them to handle a larger volume of orders. While some warehouses deal primarily with bulk cases, AutoStore caters to picking individual items, making Medline's system adaptable to a wider range of medical supplies. Medline's use of robotics exemplifies how automation can revolutionize operations. 

Minding the Talent Gap 

With the robotics industry booming, there is more demand for employees with skills to manage robots and automated systems. However, a shortage of skilled workers is hindering many organizations’ ability to meet the growing demand for robotics expertise. Several factors contribute to this gap, including rapid technological advancements, a shortage of STEM graduates, and the need for specialized knowledge in emerging areas like robotic programming, mechatronics, engineering, and artificial intelligence. To address this talent shortage, various initiatives are underway, including the development of specialized educational programs, reskilling and upskilling initiatives for existing workers, and efforts to promote STEM education at earlier stages. 

By bridging the talent gap, the robotics industry can continue to innovate and thrive. Investing in education and training programs is crucial for ensuring that the industry can fully realize its potential and drive the robotics revolution forward. 

Exploring Your Robotics Future at Capitol Tech 

Capitol Tech’s Mechatronics, Robotics, and Engineering Technology programs can prepare you for a dynamic and future-proof career that is in-demand across nearly every industry and seeing an increase in robotics automation. For more information, visit our website or contact our Admissions team