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A glimpse on 2025 – II

Robot density in manufacturing in various Countries. South Korea leads with 932 robots per 10,000 workers. The world average is 126 per 10,000 workers. Image credit: 2021 World Robot Report

Continuing the analyses of the Huawei’s proposed 2025 technology trends:

3. Super Sight

Augmented and Virtual Reality are quite widespread if we think, as an example, about the use of a smartphone as a lens providing a translation of a text by overlaying the translated text on the original one (Google translator does that). Another example of AR application, not as widespread, because of the limited adoption in cars (top of the line, and flowing down to middle class cars -watch the clip), are HUDs – head up display.

I am giving these two examples to show that AR is not a futuristic technology, rather something that has become part of everyday life for many people. (Some) professionals have also adopted AR with specialised devices (tablets, Google glasses, goggles …) in areas as far apart as manufacturing and surgery. Hence, once again AR adoption is a reality today.

The same goes for VR, with a consumer market using VR in gaming and professionals using VR in a number of activities (training, design, …).

Having said that, the prediction that AR and VR will be adopted by 10% of industries -worldwide- by 2025, may not seem a preposterous statement. It is not, but at least to me it seems a really challenging prediction. 10% of world industry is … a lot!

Industry is clearly profit driven, it is not subject to hype and fashion. Adoption of AR and VR should make economic sense. Whilst in the mass market affordability is a major issue, industry is less concerned on price, much more on ROI: it does not matter how much investment is needed (of course within limits!) as long as that investment generates revenues repaying it and then some.

Hence, the real point in discussing adoption of AR and VR in industry is all about the advantage provided by these technologies. Clearly they allow the exploration of the digital space (VR) and the merging of the digital space with the physical space (AR). Therefore, the precondition for adoption is the existence of a digital space for that industry/company.

What we are seeing is that more and more industries are embracing the Digital Transformation and this goes hand in hand with the creation and use of a company’s digital space (I am not using here the bloated term “Metaverse”). Also, we are seeing a growing uptake of Digital Twins that can interface with humans through AR and VR.
Effective ways to access this digital space, like the ones provided by AR and VR, may be of interest to these companies, hence one could expect a growing adoption.

In order to be effective, AR needs to be right on time and not “distracting” – causing information overload.   It also needs to become part of the company’s process (as an example workers need to be trained in its use and a trace of the information flow shall be kept. This latter is particularly important since the AR is “fleeting” and some mechanisms of ack shall be put  place).

VR more extensive adoption is even trickier because of the negative sensations that can affect many users, hence a potential opposition from blue and white collar to use it.

All in all, I feel that there are forces that are fostering the adoption of these technologies on a broader scale in industry, although I would not go as far as foreseeing a 10% adoption at industry level worldwide by 2025.

4. Working with Bots

I take this prediction along with the previous one because the evolution towards robots that can work hand in hand with human workers can also benefit from the use of AR and VR.

Co-bots already exist and are a growing presence in industry. Industrial robots used to operate in a “sterile” environment, i.e. well separated from human workers, for safety reasons. The robots growing awareness of their environment, thanks to sensors and AI, makes it possible to have a closer collaboration with human workers, with the robot becoming a “member” of the working team. To be effective the communications between robots and humans have to improve and become, possibly, seamless. Natural language, AR and VR are technologies that may help, although works is still needed to make sure that there are no ambiguity on either side (when you press a button … you press that button activating a specific function, when you say “activate XXX function” one needs to be sure that there are no misunderstanding).

Robots are becoming smarter, more flexible and able to learn on the way. This is a good thing, although it could make their behaviour unpredictable. The robot may take different actions depending on its current level of expertise, and that, in principle, keeps changing over time. This introduces a whole new set of issues that will need to be addressed.

According to Huawei, we can expect 1 co-robot every 100 workers by 2025 in the manufacturing area. This seem a reasonable figure, both because the number of robots will increase and because the number of blue collars will keep decreasing. Notice that, as shown in the graphic, the total number of robots (including those that are NOT co-bots, today the lion’s share) has already reached, end of 2021, 1,26 per 100 blue collars at the end of 2021, according to the 2021 World Robot Report.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.