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Robotics: Types, Applications and Challenges 

Context: While Amazon continues to develop and deploy robotic systems in some of its warehouses in different parts of the world, the company has not tested Robots in any of its facilities in India, raising questions about the capability of India’s robotic ecosystems.

The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) defines Robotics as the science and practice of designing, manufacturing, and applying robots. Robotic technology encompasses the design, construction, operation, and use of robots.

Working Principle of Robot:

  • A robot operates by sensing its environment, carrying out computations for decision-making, and performing actions. 
  • Sensors in the robot collect and feed measurements to a controller or computer, which processes them and subsequently sends control signals to motors and actuators which allows the robot to interact with its environment. 
  • Combining the above features with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) have led to the development of more advanced robots that can perform tasks, such as visual perception, speech recognition, and decision-making.

Types of Robots:

As such there is no strict classification of robots and their types but according to as per the Bureau of Indian Standard’s standards for robots, they can be classified as: 

  1. Industrial Robots: They are used in manufacturing and assembly line operations, and handle specific automation applications such as picking and placing objects; assembling and packaging; ironing, cutting, or welding; and product inspection, among others.
  2. Services Robots: They are robots for personal use or professional use that perform useful tasks for humans or equipment. They are used in non-industrial environments, such as homes, hospitals, and offices.
  3. Medical Robots: They are used as medical electrical equipment or medical electrical systems and are not regarded as an industrial robot or service robot.

World Robotics Report 2022

According to the report, five major markets for industrial robots are China, Japan, the United States, the Republic of Korea, and Germany. These countries accounted for 78% of global robot installations. China ranked first in terms of annual installations of industrial robots followed by Japan and USA. China now instals more industrial robots per year than the rest of the world combined.

India and Robotics:

  •  Since 2016, the operational stock of industrial robots has more than doubled in India to reach 33,220 units in 2021, averaging at an annual growth rate of 16%.
  •  In terms of annual industrial installations, India ranks 10th globally as per the World Robotics Report, 2022.

Application of Robotics in India:

1. Applications in Manufacturing 

  • Production Automation: These kinds of robots become part of the production unit, they come in various types and configurations, each designed to perform specific tasks in the production chain. E.g., Articulated and SCARA robots etc. 
  • Process Optimization: Through eliminating mundane tasks, streamlining workflows, reducing costs, ensuring continuity, and improving operational efficiency robots helps in process optimisation.
  • Logistics and Warehousing automation: To help in reducing errors, speed up order fulfilment, reduce overhead and running costs, and facilitate better inventory management. E.g., Autonomous Mobile Robot

2. Applications in Healthcare: 

  • Cleaning and Disinfecting: 
    • Disinfecting robots utilise ultraviolet-C (UV-C) light or hydrogen peroxide vapour (HPV) for cleaning identified areas. 
  • Safety and Monitoring Robots: 
    • Telepresence systems use computer vision technology to monitor the patient’s vitals and voice recognition to communicate with the patient. 
  • Surgical Robots: Allows surgery to be performed using small tools attached to a robotic arm. The surgeon uses a computer system to control the robotic arm to which small surgical tools are attached.

3. Applications in Agriculture: 

  • Precision farming: By using the big data and surrounding awareness they help in precision farming. 
  • Animal husbandry: Through optimal use of grass areas, improving nutritional value of grass, using tools to milk cows, they help optimise the dairy businesses. 
  • Crop and Soil health monitoring by crop surveillance, doing weed control etc. 
  • Crop harvesting: They use sensors and cameras to detect when the crops are ready to be picked, then use robotic arms or other tools to carefully harvest them without damaging the produce. 
  • Use in crop scouting: These robots traverse large fields and collect real-time information on pest type, concentration, and infestation level. Also, they would assist in collecting information on soil moisture, nutrient deficiency, and disease severity during crop growth stages.
  • Use in spot-spraying: They detect and treat weeds, diseases, pests and nutrient requirements, in real time, in growing crops.

National Security 

  • Mine Detection: 
    • Image processing technique is employed to find the accurate position of the robot.
    • Metal detector is the sensor used to detect landmines. 
    • The graphical user interface for the remote terminal computer provides the effective control for the robot. 
  • In Surveillance, they can be used in different activities, such as, mobile robots for ground, aerial, surface water, and underwater applications.
  • Remotely operated vehicles: These robots allow us to explore a space without actually being in that space. They send back data, including live video, of its surroundings.
  • Combat robots: They are designed for military applications, from transport to search & rescue and attack. 

Challenges to Indian Robotics Ecosystem in India:

  • Limited skilled human resources pose a significant challenge in robot design, development, and maintenance. E.g., shortage of technicians and specialised maintenance personnel.
  •  Lack of multidisciplinary collaboration among government stakeholders, industry, academia, start-ups, and other relevant stakeholders.
  • High import dependence makes it vulnerable to supply chain disruptions impacting local availability. E.g., Magnets (crucial for motors), batteries, etc.
  • Capital intensive nature of robotics development limits scaling up robot production due to the need of software, manufacturing processes and production units.
  • Lack of a comprehensive regulatory framework addressing intellectual property protection and cybersecurity for robotic systems which may lead to intellectual property disputes, cybersecurity vulnerabilities.  
  • Lack of reliable energy and internet connectivity and other critical infrastructures affecting their performance, reliability, and real-time communication capabilities.
  •  Limited awareness about robotic technologies limits their adoption leading to high operational inefficiency and cost.
  •  Ethical concerns such as privacy infringements, biased decision-making, and intrusive surveillance by use of robotics.

Way Forward:

  • Create Robotic Innovation Unit (RIU) which builds a dynamic robotics ecosystem by collaborating with industry start-ups, to make Robotics future ready. 
  • Create a “Research and Development (R&D) Centre of Excellence for robotics” to promote cutting-edge discoveries driving technological advancements in robotics.
  • Regulatory Steps:
    • Create Demonstration Centres to showcase robotics innovations and innovation test beds to refine them.
    • Create Regulatory sandboxes to promote experimentation with new robotics technology.
    • Form standard mechanism to ensure safety and quality, driving progress in robotics.
    • Create a Fund for innovation and provide start-up support, and fiscal incentives to boost technological progress.
    • Form a technical training module to ensure a skilled workforce, creating an ecosystem for robotics advancement.

The rise of robotics is reshaping a wide range of human activities, and early interventions in these ecosystems can help India harness the full potential of robotics, driving multi-sectoral economic growth and technological advancement.

To achieve this, the Government of India has formulated a draft National Strategy for Robotics, aiming to position India as a global leader in the research, design, development, and manufacturing of robotics. 

This post first appeared on IAS Compass By Rau's IAS, please read the originial post: here

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Robotics: Types, Applications and Challenges 


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