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The second part of the brief report on the status of robotics in the US, Western Europe, Korea, Japan and Australia


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The Status of Robotics

Report on the WTEC International Study: Part II

BY GEORGE BEKEY AND JUNKU YUH

This article is the second part of a summary report on

the status of robotics in the United States, Western

Europe, Korea, Japan, and Australia. This report is

based on visits to over 50 laboratories in 2004 and

2005. The study was performed by the World

Technology Evaluation Center (WTEC) and

supported primarily by the U.S. National

Science Foundation (NSF) and the

National Aeronautics and Space

Administration (NASA). The first

part of the report, published in

IEEE Robotics and Automation

Magazine in December

2007, concentrated on robotic

vehicles, space robotics,

and humanoid

robots. This article summarizes

the findings of

the survey in industrial,

service, and personal robots,

biological and medical

applications and

networked robots. The full

report may be accessed at

http://wtec.org/robotics and

will be published in book form

by Imperial College Press in 2008.

Industrial, Service, and Personal

Robots

Robots can be classified into different categories depending on

their function and the market needs for which they are

designed. Here, we identify two major classes of robots: industrial

robots and service robots. Within the latter class of robots,

we will divide service robots into personal service robots and

professional service robots, depending on their function and

use. According to the Robotic Industries Association, an

industrial robot is an automatically controlled, reprogrammable,

multipurpose manipulator programmable in three or

more axes that may be either fixed in place or mobile for use in

industrial automation applications. The first industrial robot,

manufactured by Unimate, was installed by General Motors in

1961. Thus, industrial robots have been around for over four

decades. According to the International Federation of

Robotics, another professional organization, a service robot is

a robot that operates semiautonomously or fully autonomously

for performing services useful to the well being of humans and

equipment, excluding manufacturing operations. Personal

robots are service robots that educate, assist, or entertain at

home. These include domestic robots that may

perform daily chores, assistive robots for

people with disabilities, and robots

that can serve as companions or

pets for entertainment.

Industrial robots account

for a US$4 billion market

with a growth rate of

around 4%. Most of the

current applications are

either in material handling

or in welding. Spot

welding and painting

operations in the automotive

industry are

almost exclusively perautoformed

by robots.

According to the United

Nations Economic Commission

for Europe (UNECE),

there are over 20,000 professional

service robots in use today valued

at an estimated US$2.4 billion. If

personal entertainment robots and domestic

robots such as vacuum cleaners are

included, this number is well over US$3.5 billion. The

UNECE estimates that the value of service robots (both professional

and personal) sold in 2005 was about US$5 billion.

Most of the industrial robotics industries are based in Japan

and Europe. This is despite the fact that the first industrial

robots were manufactured in the United States. At one time,

General Motors, Cincinnati Milacron, Westinghouse, and

General Electric made robots. Now, only Adept, a San Josebased

company, makes industrial robots in the United States.

However, there are a number of small companies developing

service robots in the United States. Companies such as iRobot

(Figure 1), Mobile Robotics, and Evolution Robotics are pioneering

new technologies.

The two largest manufacturers of industrial robots,

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