Special-Edition Viewpoints Address The Pandemic Crisis

In the wake of the covid-19 pandemic, pathways and opportunities in technology commercialization are undergoing dramatic transformation on many fronts. To address Explorer clients' urgent need to understand both the near- and longer-term impacts, we are providing a special set of analyses for May and June about the pandemic's impact on technology commercialization. Because the developments we describe affect multiple technologies, we have organized our standard Technology Areas into six consequential technology domains. (Read the full announcement about these special analyses.)

  • The May 2020 documents identify a wide range of key forces that will likely have a major influence on prospects for the six technology domains, imagining a plausible range of alternative outcomes that these forces could have during the coming five to ten years. These outcomes serve as building blocks for creating effective responses to the pandemic.
  • The June 2020 documents provide a scenarios-based analysis for each of the six technology domains, with emphasis on how the key uncertain forces might interact with and influence commercialization pathways in alternative postpandemic futures. Also available is a special presentation—The Pandemic Crisis: Scenarios for the Future of Technology Development—summarizing the scenarios and their implications for the six technology domains.

We encourage clients to engage with all six special-edition Viewpoints in both May and June to gain a broad view of potential changes and opportunities in technology commercialization. Please contact us if you do not already have access to all six technology domains, and we will be happy to provide you with the remaining articles in the collection.

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About This Technology

Robotic systems perform physical manipulations loosely based on human abilities. The strict definition of robots requires that those manipulations be programmable or performable autonomously or by programmable teleoperation. The International Federation of Robotics classifies robots in two ways: manipulating industrial robots and others. According to the IFR, a manipulating industrial robot is an automatically controlled, reprogrammable, multipurpose, manipulative machine with three or more reprogrammable axes that users may either fix in place or make mobile for industrial-automation applications. In manufacturing, robots improve quality and productivity by reducing process variance and lowering total production costs. In other industries, a robot is a machine that users can program to perform manipulative and in some cases locomotive tasks under automatic control. In many applications, both manufacturing and nonmanufacturing, robots free humans from hazardous, noisy, strenuous tasks, or they operate where humans simply cannot.

More than 2 million industrial robots are in daily operation around the world, and the market for industrial robots continues to increase. In manufacturing, robots can be a core technology of flexible manufacturing or computer-integrated manufacturing. As computer processors increase in power and decrease in cost, robots will provide increasing flexibility and operate more autonomously than current robots do. Such capabilities will broaden future robots' applications into such areas as logistics, defense, medicine, personal assistance, construction, cooperating robotic teams, and many others that require sophisticated operation.

Manufacturing companies will continue to benefit from evolutionary developments in robotic systems and related technologies. Service-industry applications of robots is an emerging area, and service industries are likely to see further benefits from the technology within the next decade. Logistics robots are revolutionizing the way e-commerce companies prepare and handle packages. Military applications will drive the development of many mobile robots. Personal robots are emerging, especially for applications such as floor cleaning. Questions remain about the range of applications for such robots: Homes have become increasingly mechanized, and robots may be an unnecessary addition to people's living environments. Researchers and large manufacturers continue to develop advanced personal robots, especially in Japan. Such robots may start to have significant impacts on people's lives in the next 15 to 20 years.