The Robot Revolution

May 14, 1982

Report Outline
Technological Advances
Consequences for Society
Special Focus

Technological Advances

Repidly Growing Interest in Robotics

They don't call in sick, go on strike or take long lunch breaks. They can work efficiently for indefinite periods and never complain about salaries, demanding bosses or poor working conditions. “They” are industrial robots and experts see them as a way to boost this country's lagging productivity. Industrial robots do hazardous, difficult and monotonous jobs that most humans would prefer not to do and they do them more reliably and, in some cases, more cheaply. Analysts estimate that robots now in use in American factories have helped boost production by 10-90 percent.

It took the first American robot manufacturer 14 years to show a profit and other companies' earnings from robots are only now beginning to materialize. But the portion of corporate revenues from robots is growing significantly and interest in robotics is at an all-time high. By 1974 there were enough U.S. robot manufacturers to form a trade association, the Robot Institute of America (RIA), in Dearborn, Mich. Membership has grown to over 180 companies and corporations that supply or use industrial robots. Copies of RIA's magazine, Robotics Today, are so much in demand that non-subscriber copies sell out soon after printing, and attendance at trade shows has more than doubled in the last two years. The Robots VI conference, held in Detroit in March 1982, was so packed, observers noted, that the exhibition area had to be closed off to visitors for hours at a time.

Many companies' robot divisions are growing at a faster rate than the rest of the organization, and new companies are entering the field just as quickly. According to Laura Conigliaro, a financial analyst with the New York investment firm Bache Halsey Stuart Shields Inc., two years ago it was difficult for small firms just starting out in robotics to attract adequate financial backing. Now, she says, venture capital firms are seeking out robot-makers rather than the other way around.

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