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Building a Robotic Future – From Pandemic Response to a Pan-robotic World  

In recent weeks I’ve looked at the worldwide response to Coronavirus and how it is giving us an on-the-ground glimpse of the crucial life-saving roles robots can play:not only do robotic technologies support medical frontliners in their daily work, they also minimize human-to-human contact helping to contain the spread of Coronavirus. 

From China to Europe, robots check people coming into hospitals for fever, collect swabs for testing, disinfect hospitals and streets, prepare and deliver food, and help the elderly to communicate with the outside world. These robots use image-guided systems, medical information technologies, and precision mechatronics. It’s impossible not to be impressed.

But I think robots can do much more.

If understood and leveraged effectively, COVID-19 response efforts can mark the beginning of an industry shift to focus on health and human services. In this new world,roboticists will work more closely with healthcare providers and medical institutions in an orchestrated effort to design new, more efficient, and practical robots.

For example,robots that doctors and nurses don’t need to spend more than a few minutes to learn how to use, and that integrate seamlessly into hectic hospital wards.

Robotics and their implementation could become a part of the governmental macro-level policy in order to address large-scale communal and economic challenges. If robots can take the load of medical staff and keep them safe, and lower the cost of medical care, then it should be part of government policy to increase their use.

Another major industry shift is a growing understanding that robotic technology needs to be taken out of the realm of pure science.

The robots I described at the beginning of this article rely on mature, readily deployable technologies. They didn’t spring from the latest research in universities. As we learn from this pandemic and look into a new global future, those of us in the robotics industry are already rethinking our innovations, aiming to create more application-oriented robotic solutions.

I’ve written in the past about how innovation is more than just technological inventions. It is also about taking existing technologies and adapting them to new uses. Repurposed uses of existing technology can be as innovative in the real-world as academic R&D - sometimes even more.

As part of this change I also envision new robot sales models. At Musashi AI we are experiencing a surge in interest from factories seeking to fill gaps left by workers in self-isolation. These factories don’t need to buy Musashi robots. Instead they can lease them for as long as they need. So Musashi AI is in effect a placement agency for industrial robots, enabling factories to overcome financial barriers to using robots.

I believe that we’ll see more robotic placement agencies in the coming years, as end-users from all walks of life will be able to incorporate more and more of these technologies into their work routines in hospitals, factories, offices,and elsewhere.

I genuinely hope that one of the positive things to come out of this crisis is the increased use of robots to save lives and improve our collective wellbeing.Whether we do this through catalyzing brand-new efforts, redesigning our practices, expanding collaboration on existing initiatives, or all of the above, we have got to face up to the fact that life after coronavirus will not be the same. Let’s take new steps forward to make robotics technology align with our new reality.  

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