The novel COVID-19 outbreak has taken the entire world by storm. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, and governmental bodies from across the world are investing a significant amount of time towards containing this disease. The outbreak has not just engendered tragedies of illness and death but has changed the way we live.
The relatively low prevalence of such mass-scale outbreaks, and the ambiguity and fear that accompany them, results in new behaviors and beliefs. People are becoming more dubious and less willing to participate in activities that appear strange or foreign, especially any activity involving human contact.
For better or worse, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning systems have been replacing the majority of jobs at a rapid pace, and the COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating the process.
Before the onset of the pandemic, many people had some level of apprehension about automation and AI. Those concerns seem to have been put aside since the outbreak, as AI-based technologies have been leveraged to mitigate the spread of the virus. We have seen an increase in the use of robotics and automation to do the jobs of humans who have been forced to quarantine at home.
Automation in All Industry Sectors
The COVID-19 outbreak seems to be speeding up the “rise of automation” in consumer-facing sectors, with public concerns over physical contact with people who could have the disease playing a significant role. For example, self-checkout lanes used to be a unique sight; yet, now, between major big-box stores such as Walmart, ACME, Giant, and others, they are being implemented so heavily that it is not uncommon for lanes with actual cashiers to be outnumbered! While the pandemic was the impetus for this change, it is important to note that this tech is here to stay. It would be unwise to assume that, post pandemic, these big box stores would remove self-checkout lanes after investing so heavily in the tech.
Taking automation a step further are businesses that have implemented completely cashier-less stores, which could redefine the future of retail stores’ operation and appearance. Amazon, for example, is taking its brick-and-mortar ambitions seriously with the help of cashier-less systems. Amazon opened its first Amazon Go store in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle, and there are now several more across the U.S. The store uses a mix of cameras and sensors (i.e., computer vision technology) to detect when items are taken from the shelves, and people are charged automatically upon leaving the store.
Here are a few more examples of how automated systems have made their way into all walks of life:
1. Robotic Bartender
Makr Shakr has partnered with Nordic beverage company GlacierFire to launch its first bar that safely brings people together in the post-pandemic world by leveraging robotics and AI technologies. The ICE+FRIES bar has been opened in the city of Reykjavík, Iceland and showcases a series of high-tech elements such as the latest version of Makr Shakr’s world’s first robotic cocktail maker, Toni.
2. Healthcare and Pharmacy
The idea of AI replacing human jobs is often seen as a danger of robotization. However, there are evident benefits, as demonstrated by the use of robots in medical settings, especially during a pandemic. A robot cannot get infected by patients, and with proper sanitation, it cannot infect humans either.
For example, robots are being used as a medium between doctor and patient, wherein they undertake diagnostic and treatment processes. Such technology can greatly reduce human contact and limit the spread of infection. It would also ensure that people continue to get proper medical care without eliminating the need for a human doctor to translate findings and have discussion with the patient.
Furthermore, Clevy.io has launched a chatbot that helps people more easily find the official statements posted about COVID-19.
Additionally, robotic pharmacies can efficiently perform human tasks, including prescribing medicines and tendering the medicines. The digitalization of hospitals and pharmacies opens the possibility of leveraging data to improve both diagnosis and prescriptions in the future.
3. Retail and E-commerce
The retail sector is one of the primary industries to incorporate automation and robotics in their systems to free up employees and better deal with the COVID-19 outbreak.
For instance, Brain Corp makes software products used in robotic floor cleaners, which are now being used 13% more than they were in the initial months of the pandemic. The robotic cleaners are doing around 8,000 hours of daily floor cleaning that would have otherwise been done by a human employee. This technology not only reduces the need for employees to be on-site, but it also improves the sanitation and efficiency of the store.
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Advantages and Disadvantages of Self-Service/Automated Systems
The advantages of using automated systems include increased productivity, elevated production rates, improved safety, reduced factory lead times, better product quality, shorter work hours every week, and more efficient use of materials. Irrespective of the claims of high quality of work performed by human employees, automated systems perform the manufacturing processes and other operations with less variability. Thereby, it results in higher control and consistency of product quality. Moreover, higher process control makes it more efficient to use raw materials, thereby producing less scrap.
Worker safety is another crucial reason to automate industrial processes. These systems remove human employees from the workplace, thereby safeguarding them against mishaps in the warehouse environment. The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) of 1970 has sanctioned the use of automation and robotics in factories and warehouses. Safety has also been given a new definition with the COVID-19 pandemic, and robotics can likewise provide a safeguard against dangers to health and wellness.
Another major advantage of automation and robotics is the reduction in the number of weekly hours by factory workers.
Despite these many benefits, there are some disadvantages to incorporating robotics in the workplace as well. A major one is worker displacement. If displaced, individuals often have to relocate in order to find substantial work, which can cause a great deal of financial, emotional, and physical stress.
Other disadvantages associated with automation are the high capital expenditure needed to invest in automated systems and robots, lower flexibility compared to humans, and a high level of maintenance required compared to a manually operated machine.
The Bottom Line
Events like the COVID-19 outbreak have the potential to disrupt all sectors. Even after the vaccine for COVID-19 is developed, it is difficult to perceive life returning to how it was at the beginning of 2020.
Companies and organizations that have incorporated automation into their systems might find that a large percentage of their human workers are not required at the workplace. People who will have spent more time interacting with robots and other automated systems in stores might become accustomed to such types of interaction.
When people get used to having food delivered by a drone or robot, they may not pay heed to the disappearance of a job that was once performed by a human executive. Ultimately, while the COVID-19 pandemic may have launched the world deeper into automation implementation, it is up to humans to determine how they want to incorporate automation and AI-based technologies in the world, even in a post-COVID world.
- Remote Work Essential in the Post-Pandemic Era - February 9, 2021
- The Rise of Self-Service and Automatic Systems amid the COVID-19 Crisis - January 26, 2021
- Data Cataloging Helps Businesses Work More Efficiently - January 12, 2021