The U.S. economy has been in a productivity slump for more than a decade while 10,000 Americans are retiring every day, adding pressure on the workers who will have to support them. That underscores why boosting productivity is the single most important economic goal for the nation. Fortunately, technologies that can help improve productivity are getting better. Perhaps the most important of these is robotics. Yet the United States lags many other nations—not only in robotics adoption, but also in the development of a robotics industry.
Only July 16, 2019, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation held a panel discussion in the Rayburn House Office Building on the current state and future potential of robotics across all sectors of the U.S. economy.
SoftBank's humanoid robot, Pepper, delivered opening remarks. Congressman Mike Doyle also spoke, stressing that robotics and related fields will drive the economy in the coming decades. As such, it is critical that the United States remain a leader.
ITIF President Rob Atkinson then continued the conversation about the importance of investment in robotic technology. He noted how the United States is not adopting robots as fast as it should. Raising productivity will play a critical role in maintaining and growing the country’s economy, and robotics are a key way to increase productivity.
Then Jeff Burnstein, President of the Association for Advancing Automation, discussed the growing importance and prominence of automation technology. He noted how robots help to improve human lives in various fields, including professional services, households, and entertainment. Service robots have also filled jobs where there is a shortage of workers.
Eric Krotkov, Chief Science Office for Toyota Research, then explained how robots can help our aging society; robots can address physical needs, as well as social isolation and loneliness.
Then Stuart Shepherd, Regional Sales Director of America for Universal Robots, further discussed the importance of making robotic automation accessible. He noted that robotic automation can easy to use for all businesses, stressing that human-robot collaboration is 85% more productive than the work of humans or robots alone. He also added that the government should focus on enabling domestic industries, educating on how to apply technology, and enabling employment.
Dave Vasko, Director of Advanced Technology for Rockwell Automation, then continued the conversation on industrial automation. He noted that robots provide a mechanism for doing highly repetitive tasks, which are jobs that face difficulty retaining workers. Robots ultimately will interact more with people and with systems, and this collaboration will improve factory safety and productivity.
Collin Sebastian, Head of Software Products and Engineering for SoftBank Robotics America, spoke about the human role in the process of automation development and the increasing role of robots in the labor force. He noted that the nature of the workforce is changing, and robotics will help address that workforce while augmenting the workplace.
The panelists closed the conversation by sharing what they are most excited about in the future of robotics. Their answers included supporting care for the elderly, allowing older adults to stay in their homes, supporting more manufacturing in the United States, making manufacturing more competitive, and improving education. Guests also had an opportunity to interact with SoftBank’s Pepper, and one of Universal Robot’s collaborative robotic arms after the panel concluded.