Industrial robots have made carmakers and other manufacturers faster and more efficient. New technology allows us to control air conditioning and lighting at our homes from the office. We even have apps that will send an alert when the refrigerator door is left open.
What part of our lives is next to be automated?
Linden Tibbets, co-founder and CEO of IFTTT, a company that writes code to connect and automate online services, suggests flipping the question. Automation is seeping into every corner of our daily lives, he told an audience gathered Wednesday (April 27) at the Collision tech conference in New Orleans. Collision, which moved from Las Vegas this year, runs April 26-28.
Tibbets pointed to the Amazon’s Echo device, released in November 2014 and known more widely to consumers as “Alexa,” the name the device responds to. Echo owners can query the device for restaurant recommendations, have it call a cab or ask it to place an online order for more toilet paper. A pleasant female voice responds to help.
Consumer-oriented technologies like the Echo and Nest, a home automation service, are quickly crowding the market, Tibbets said.
“We are literally wiring up and adding software to every single thing we do,” Tibbets said.
The move toward automation is apparent across industries and has been blamed for killing jobs along the way. Banks are relying more on ATMs rather than tellers to help customers withdraw cash or deposit checks. Retailers are adding self-checkout lines. Workers labor alongside industrial machines in factories.
The next industry on the verge of an automation overhaul? Agriculture, says Andra Keay, managing director at Silicon Valley Robotics, an organization that supports innovation in robotics.
Keay thinks robots may be a good thing for farms. Large shortages spurred crop losses in California and other states last year. The Wall Street Journal reports the decline in workers is reducing fruit and vegetable production by 9.5 percent, or $3.1 billion, a year.
Ranchers are already using drones to survey lands and electronic chips to find cattle. Keay envisions robotic strawberry harvesters or equipment that monitors and regulates dairy cow production from start to finish without human help.
Keay said automation could even revive local farming by helping small operations connect with and deliver to nearby restaurants and markets.
“It’s an area where I think robotics has the most to offer and in some ways the least to lose,” Keay said.
Even people-centric industries like hospitality could rely more on robots. Savioke, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based company, has developed an autonomous robot named Relay that can deliver snacks, beverages and fresh towels to guests.
Keay noted Savioke saw a burst in interest after making a small change to the robot – adding an automatically lifting lid to the delivery compartment.
The easier automated technology is to use, the more widely it will be accepted, she said.
Tibbets said the range of automation tech being released is staggering and unlikely to slow down.
“There is a sense of being overwhelmed,” he said. “It’s as if the Pandora’s box of computing, which really was an actual box, a PC or laptop, has opened.”