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Warehouse robots illusttration Solwr

The robots are here! What now?

Published by Pia Bratteberg-Øye on

“R2D2, you know better than to trust a strange computer!”

C-3PO. R2D2. Terminator. Wall-e. Robots were long associated with science-fiction movies and books; something that existed in alternate universes or in fantasy versions of the future. Today, the future is here in the form of robots that mow the lawn, vacuum the house or deliver pizza to our door. But what happens when we start introducing robots into the workplace?

We live in a technological age where artificial intelligence opens new doors. At the same time, a report from the International Federation of Robotics (shaw 2018) shows a sharp increase in the sale of robots for the labor market, in the period 2013-2018. Robots are no longer reserved for factories, but are increasingly being introduced as something that can compliment and collaborate with humans. In that case, it is particularly important that the companies that introduce robots in the workplace take into account the human employees, so that the transition is felt to be safe for all parties.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • The robots are here, and they're here to stay. We need to start thinking of them as opportunities; a tool for more effective collaboration.
  • Introducing robots in the workplace can contribute to efficiency and increased productivity, cost reductions, innovation and an image as an attractive and up-to-date employer.
  • When introducing robots in the workplace, it is important to have trust between the employees and the company, but also between the employees and the robot.

What exactly is a robot?

From high-flying robots in space to the robot that vacuums your kitchen. Robots can be defined as systems containing sensors (to perceive the environment), control systems (the robot's brain/command center), moving parts (such as wheels, arms and legs), power supplies and software (the robot's intelligence), all of which work together to perform a task.

But here the scholars dispute; how independently must a machine perform its task to be categorized as a robot? Automation refers to how systems control themselves to a greater or lesser extent, for example doors that open automatically instead of manually, or robotic arms that automatically assemble parts in the factory.

Autonomy, on the other hand, is both the system's ability to manage itself, as well as its ability to react to unexpected events and the ability to make its own choices; such as when the robot vacuum cleaner itself discovers where it needs to spend more time due to dirt or a lot of dust, or when the cat has got in the way and the vacuum cleaner has to drive around. Most robots today are autonomous to varying degrees.

FAST FACTS

The robots are here, and they're here to stay.

Tomorrow's future

Today there is fully automatic robotic warehouse technology such as AutoStore. Such solutions offer high efficiency, but also high investment, in the form of rebuilding/new construction of warehouses. This means that other solutions that utilize existing inventories are becoming more common. Instead of replacing people completely, robots are introduced as a supplement to the human employees without the need for remodeling the physical surroundings. The picking robot from Solwr is an example of this, where the robot not only meets production requirements, but also helps to reduce work tasks linked to heavy lifting and falling.

Solwr Robotics Grab warehouse picking robot

The robot - your new colleague

Introducing robots in the workplace can contribute to efficiency and increased productivity, cost reductions, innovation and an image as an attractive and up-to-date employer. At the same time, it will affect the working environment and the everyday life of the employees who work with or around the robots.

In contrast to self-driving cars and robot lawnmowers, the introduction of robot colleagues is often a decision over which the employees have no power, while at the same time it can create a fear of how everyday working life will be affected. The design of the robot itself, how we introduce the robot and automation is, in other words, not just a question of how much work it will do or take over, but also about what effects it has on the human employees; What will it take for the employees to accept the robot?

Trust and involvement

When introducing robots in the workplace, it is important to have trust between the employees and the company, but also between the employees and the robot. If the people in the workplace do not trust or accept the robot, they can in the worst case intervene to sabotage, make it more difficult for the robot to carry out the job, or simply avoid cooperating with it. This trust depends on several factors, such as the personality of the employees and the culture of the company (some are more open to change and new technology than others), information and inclusion in the workplace, as well as how the robot looks and communicates with its surroundings. In other words, a company should provide sufficient information about why the robot is being introduced and how the robot should function in their working environment. This will create a mutual understanding of the situation and give the most accurate picture of how the robot will affect the employees' everyday working life.

The robots are here, and they're here to stay. But instead of seeing them as something foreign or a threat, we need to start thinking of them as opportunities; a tool for more effective collaboration.