In a well-publicized article in Scientific America at the beginning of 2007 Bill Gates made a bold prediction that robotics would be the “next big thing.” He likened the industry to emergent PCs of the late 1970s . . . as being just ready to take off. In that article Gates drew some further comparisons between the two periods and suggested that if we did a thought experiment we wouldn’t really be able to tell the difference between 1977 and 2007.
Imagine being present at the birth of a new industry. It is an industry based on groundbreaking new technologies, wherein a handful of well-established corporations sell highly specialized devices for business use and a fast-growing number of start-up companies produce innovative toys, gadgets for hobbyists and other interesting niche products. But it is also a highly fragmented industry with few common standards or platforms. Projects are complex, progress is slow, and practical applications are relatively rare. In fact, for all the excitement and promise, no one can say with any certainty when–or even if–this industry will achieve critical mass. If it does, though, it may well change the world.
Now, of course, Mr. Gates can be excused for not quite getting the timing right on the robotics part of the equation. Nine years ago mobile, cloud, or Big Data were just on the horizon. The first iPhone would be released in June 2008, software-as-a-serve was just starting to take off; with all the information generated from mobile devices, Big Data soon followed. But it was those epic transformations that resulted in the incremental wins – the consumerization of technology, faster ways to collaborate, open source hardware and cheaper manufacturing – that have brought us ever so close to a robot in every home.
What’s different about today versus 2007 is that society and business have reached an inflection point where the technologies and markets are ripe for automation. Breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and machine learning and the emergence of the new field of cognitive computing mean that devices today are more intelligent and efficient than ever. Smart machines today that can learn and modify behavior based on our preferences are becoming more and more ubiquitous. Internet of Things is becoming huge, not to mention self-driving cars, retail drones, smart homes . . . you name it, we’re living in exciting times!
It’s hard to grasp the enormous business impacts of automation. Market intelligence firm Tractica estimates that the global robotics market will grow from $28.3 billion worldwide in 2015 to $151.7 billion by 2020. What’s especially significant is that this market share will encompass mostly non-industrial robots, including segments like consumer, enterprise, medical, military, UAVs, and autonomous vehicles.
Now going back to Bill Gates and the comparison between robotics and the PC industry for a moment, it is interesting to consider a few things . . .
Technological progress is conventionally demarcated by ages or waves. In broader historical terms we can talk about the First and Second Industrial Revolutions, which stretch back to the 19th century. Today we hear terms like The Second Machine Age or The Third Wave to describe the current epoch. If we look at the history of the computer industry over the past 40 years, we could also divide the period into 3 major periods: the PC revolution, the Internet revolution, and the Mobile revolution.
In an excellent Business Insider article earlier this year, Matt Rosoff applied these points to specify our entrance into the next big thing.
A couple of important points. First, when a revolution ends, that doesn’t mean the revolutionary technology goes away. Everybody still has a PC. Everybody still uses the internet. It simply means that the technology is so common and widespread that it’s no longer revolutionary. It’s taken for granted. So: The mobile revolution is over. More than a billion smartphones ship every year. Apple will probably sell fewer iPhones this year than last year for the first time since the product came out. Huge new businesses have already been built on the idea that everybody will have an internet-connected computer in their pocket at all times . . . This doesn’t mean that smartphones are going away, or that Apple is doomed, or any of that nonsense. But the smartphone is normal now. Even boring. It’s not revolutionary.
Amazon has done a superb job of turning robotics into something revolutionary. Consider how the ecommerce giant has deployed robotic fulfillment devices by the thousands to automate the picking and packing process across its vast network of warehouses. Or how Amazon Prime Air is set to use drones to revolutionize the speed with which retail shipments are made.
So What Does the ROBOTICS REVOLUTION Mean for You and Your Organization?
We’re living in exciting times and are about to see epic changes that generations before us couldn’t have imagined. But at the same time, this can all seem very overwhelming especially if you’re a small business or brand new startup.
The best thing to do is to proactively start today to ask yourself what it will take to get your organization to the next level of innovation. Set yourself up with a 6 month, 12 month, 18 month and 2 year innovation plan which maps to a broader 2020 strategy.
The key thing in your favor is that you’re new. Being nimble and agile is an advantage, leverage it! Here are some additional considerations to keep in mind.
- Think of creative ways to include robotics and automation in your customer outreach and marketing strategy
- Embrace machine learning and AI and use these technologies to set yourself apart from the competition.
- Start testing and experimenting with Telepresence devices to enable employees to work remotely. By keeping new technologies on everyone’s radar you send the message that you’re forward-thinking.
- Preserve a culture of innovation and continually disrupt yourself in order to stay ahead of the market.
FOR SMALL BUSINESSES
Since markets are changing at lightning speed, disruption is inevitable. Here is what you need to do to be self-disruptive and stay ahead of the robotics revolution.
- Hire a market strategist to advise your leadership on how to pivot towards embracing key disruptive technologies like robotics, machine learning, and AI.
- Don’t try to boil the ocean but find out how to start with incremental changes. Try automating as many as product and services as possible. Setup some key performance indicators that can be adopted to measure your initial progress.
- Provide rich content through blogs, podcasts, and videos to promote your brand and drive sales; start blogging on robotics and sharing with your customers how automation will transform the way we do business.
- Provide regular training and new opportunities for employees to “skill-up” and then let them leverage that new knowledge on the job.