Robotics is the fastest growing industry in the world, poised to become the largest in the next decade. This according a recent report by Littler Mendelson, a large global labor and employment law firm.
Robotic systems, artificial intelligence, and automation are developing at an exponential rate, infiltrating almost every industry and driving cost and resource efficiencies far beyond what can be achieved by humans alone.
Robots are becoming the tool of choice in healthcare, where they are independently performing surgeries and helping to cure cancer with minimal side effects. Robots are autonomously driving cars and even serving us drinks. And they are considered the next “big disruptive technology” in manufacturing as they assemble, machine, and handle all sorts of shop-floor tasks.
The publication’s editor and managing director, Robert Safian, notes in the article that “risk of failure and collapse are always with us. But the culture of innovation across the globe is more robust than ever.”
The robotics companies highlighted in this list are certainly proof of that.
iRobot. In first place, iRobot is known for its Roomba floor-cleaner, but also has a presence in the military and medical device markets, which helped contribute to a $50 million growth spurt in 2013. The company has collaborated with Yale and Harvard researchers on a human-like adaptive manipulator hand that is nimble enough to grasp a pin; it is also teaming up with Cisco to create a telepresence bot for self-guided navigation.
Google. With the acquisition of nine robotics companies in a matter of months, Google is number two on the list. Despite a lot of speculation, no one really knows where Google is headed with its robots. Newly acquired Boston Dynamics brings Google advanced robots that have mobility, agility, dexterity, and speed, while Schaft has electric motors that power five-foot-tall humanoid automations. And the technology of one of its new companies, Bot&Dolly, was featured in the award-winning feature film Gravity. How Google combines all its robotics technologies remains to be seen.
Touch Bionics. This company made the list for a mobile app that controls a sophisticated bionic hand. Clinicians and patients can program the grip patterns and activation triggers of the company’s i-limb prosthetics product via a handheld mobile device without the aid of a robotist.
Northrop Grumman. The X-47B—a tailless fighter-size unmanned aircraft that earned a 2013 Breakthrough Award for its innovation by Popular Mechanics—gained notoriety when it made the first-ever carrier-based launch and recovery.
Rethink Robotics. Meet Baxter, the assembly robot with a touch-screen face and two arms, that recently logged 2,160 continuous work hours in an injection molding factory on a job with dirty, monotonous, and mundane tasks that would have typically taken six employees to accomplish. Baxter’s software allows customers to create their own applications.
Accuray. This radiation oncology company is the developer and maker of the CyberKnife System. The robotic manipulator has a compact lightweight linear accelerator that can deliver precise beams of radiation to zap tumors previously thought untreatable.
Liquid Robotics. Home to a marine robot powered by waves and solar cells. In 2013, the company earned a Guinness World Record for the longest journey of an unmanned autonomous surface vehicle when its Wave Glider robot named Benjamin Franklin covered 7,939 nautical miles in a transpacific crossing.
Bosch. Forget yard work this summer. Bosch’s robomower has an intelligent navigation system that automatically measures a yard and calculates the shortest possible route of orderly parallel-line mowing. With true German grit, Bosh also recently tested out its autonomous cars on the Autobahn. No casualties reported.
QBotix. Going green is simple with QBotix solar panels that are mounted on a small monorail track for easy and efficient repositioning throughout the day. The panels can save up to 20 percent in costs over the more traditional individual motorized panels.
Prox Dynamics. Rounding up the top 10 list of innovators is Prox Dynamics, with its tiny, toy-like Black Hornet nanocopters that, at only four inches long and 16 grams, fit in the palm of a hand. The UK Defense Ministry has already bought 160 nanocopters for a cool $31 million. The company, which is based in Norway, also won The Research Counsel of Norway’s 2013 Innovation Award, for the commercial potential in its technology.