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There are now about two million industrial robots globally. Over the next three years, factories worldwide are set to instal more than 1.3 million new ones. The next stage in their evolution is getting them to work together, something they're studying at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Multi-robot teams work by using their perception system to perceive the environment. Perhaps they communicate with each other to co-ordinate, and then they act.
We're already seeing impressive examples of co-operation, such as this robot opening a door for another. Robot teams also have considerable potential for industry.
With robot teams, we will see much more efficient and increased production. Multiple robots working together would also form much more adaptive and complex systems that will be able to take on a wider set of tasks.
Yet there are major challenges ahead.
Right now, it takes a lot of time and energy to design a new robot. We need better tools to design, and customise, and fabricate robots. The other challenge has to do with how the robots cannot reason beyond the specific set of instructions they have been programmed with. So we would like to get robots that will be much better at figuring things out.
China, South Korea, Japan, the US, and Germany make up nearly 3/4 of the global robot market, mostly in the electronics and automotive industries. More sophisticated robotisation may not be good news for those working in manufacturing who make up 8.7% of US jobs. 940,000 of those people are employed by automakers. With the advent of more robotics, these jobs could be in decline.
But for Germany and Japan, both of which have ageing populations, robots offer a new hope for continued economic growth. Teams of robots represent a chance to improve productivity and export more. But they are expensive and also bring the spectre of job losses. How to make sure man and machine can live together is as important as the science behind multi-robot teams.