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Automation, Sustainability and Last-Mile Delivery: Robotics in 2024

A roundtable of robotics predictions for 2024

Scarlett Evans

December 20, 2023

7 Min Read
Robotics predictions for 2024
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Robotic solutions are being rapidly adopted across industries to deal with ongoing labor challenges and meet a growing need to automate processes to improve efficiencies and sustainability.

The industry is still adapting to address this changing workforce, still perfecting infrastructure to support robotic deployments. With the pandemic demonstrating the inefficiencies of monolithic, static workflows, businesses continue to pursue more automated, plug-and-play technologies and bespoke robotic technologies are set to continue emerging to meet businesses’ individual needs.

IoT World Today collected robotics predictions from companies across industries, to find out how they expect the industry to change in the coming year, what technologies are set to emerge and how businesses can adapt to meet the changing landscape.

Ellen Brune, vice president of product management, AutoStore

As businesses continue to stabilize and grow following the impact of the pandemic, I think we will not only see a renewed interest in investing in automation, but an increase in how AI is leveraged in existing and new technologies.”

“Technologies that enable sustainability and flexibility will continue to forge ahead. There were a lot of learnings that came out of the last few years, as well as unexpected changes, that still have many companies behaving cautiously when it comes to large CapEx investments. Technologies, like AMRs, that can easily be implemented and repurposed can feel less risky, while still adding value.”

Related:Industry 4.0, AI and Automation: Smart Manufacturing in 2024

“Businesses need to ensure they are looking at the full picture of their business when considering automation. This isn’t just a labor savings or productivity play anymore – businesses also need to consider sustainability and energy efficiencies, how the labor pool is changing and demanding different types of jobs, as well as improving customer service and the customer experience.”

“Many companies still struggle to commit to large investments. There is a sense that automation can be very difficult to maintain and operate, which can lead to businesses not seeing their investment actualize. There is also a sense that a business must be very predictable to leverage automation, so technology companies need to continue simplifying the operation and management of technology while improving and communicating the flexibility potential.” 

Chris Neider, vice president of business development at Starship Technologies.

“In Europe, several countries already offer delivery robots in local neighborhoods while in the U.S., they are more common on college campuses. In 2024, more cities will bring this technology to local neighborhoods for restaurant and grocery deliveries. The technology has been used for several years and local officials want to tout the benefits of less traffic and reduced pollution.” 

“Last-mile delivery is not one-size-fits-all. There are options for sidewalks, roads and in the air. There will be different options based on the needs of the community. Sidewalk delivery bots are ideal for local food and grocery deliveries. Drones are a great option for deliveries over a greater distance. Delivery bots and vehicles that travel in the street can carry more items over a longer distance. Some areas may choose to have just one of these options to complement more traditional delivery forms while others may offer one or more options based on the needs of their community.”

“The delivery landscape is very competitive so companies need to find a way to extend their customer base. Meanwhile, restaurants, grocers and other merchants want to provide additional benefits to their customers. This has already led to partnerships between delivery companies and merchants and we expect more of this in 2024.”  

“Autonomy is important in the path to profitability when it comes to delivery so we expect more companies to focus their efforts on this technology. Technologies that require a lot of human support still have sustainable benefits but often have to pass their costs onto customers.”

Brendon Bielat, vice president of product and marketing, RightHand Robotics

“In our experience, many customers have an automation strategy that moves from a limited pilot phase to a broader, scaled deployment. This transition typically occurs over a one to two year period.

“Many e-commerce retailers experienced severe labor challenges during the pandemic and then explored automation via small scale pilots in 2022-23. We’re now having many conversations with customers who have seen the advantages of robotic automation at a small-scale and are now interested to scale to the next phase over the next 12 months. As a result, we anticipate many customers scaling from one to two robotic work cells to a double-digit number of work cells in 2024.”

“One of the biggest hurdles for the broad adoption of robotic automation is establishing trust in robotics in terms of reliability, adaptability to operations, and proof of technology. As the number of successful deployments in various regions across multiple industries continues to grow, we hear from more and more potential customers who have now been convinced about the reality of robotics and how they can benefit from them in their own operations. We see this trend accelerating over the next year.”

“As robotic work cells have become more advanced, configurable, and cost-effective, we have seen a growing number of applications such as pick/place to/from ASRS, AMRs, conveyors, put walls, etc. Just a few years ago, significant engineering development work was required to enable new workflows, but that work has decreased significantly, and opened up opportunities to continue adding more automated workflows throughout the warehouse.”

“Robotic technologies that operate in silos are difficult to maintain, and that do not operate at scale will not provide meaningful business value in the future. Customers value automation systems that can adapt and scale with operations, so highly customized solutions will become less prevalent going forward.”

“Labor challenges are not subsiding. Nearly every region and industry is facing some combination of high labor rates, low labor availability and high labor turnover. Given these challenges, businesses need to find a long-term solution to address and mitigate labor issues. The promise of robotic automation is an appealing approach to labor challenges, but it is critical that businesses have a strategy and long-term plan to invest in automation. Since automation strategy timelines often span several years from conception to full rollout, businesses need to accelerate the process of learning, piloting and deploying scaled automation before the labor challenges make the underlying economics of their operations untenable.”

Jim Hodson, chief of staff, SVT Robotics

“In the supply chain world, I think we’ll see the emergence of leaders in automation robotics designed for case picking. We’re all used to seeing AMRs and other solutions for piece picking (largely ecommerce), but there’s currently no industry leader in case picking robots. On the other hand, our experience shows that case picking still likely exceeds ecomm piece picking by a good bit, so there is a need.”

“We will also see in 2024 the continued proliferation of IoT devices used in combination with other technologies to create solutions for business outcomes. Companies that can rapidly integrate these types of technologies, along with flexible robotics solutions, will win.”

“When you take a look at the companies who are leading in the adoption of robotics, they have IT departments who are incredibly engaged. They see and measure the success of robotics just like they would with any enterprise software product. Businesses should look at this model and do their best to emulate it as part of their roadmap to the adoption of automation.”

“For companies trying to adopt robotics and automation, one of the main challenges we see them face is getting organizationally aligned. Having key stakeholders in engineering, IT and operations on the same page, marching toward a clearly defined objective is half the battle. 

“Companies who have executives who are uneasy with software and technology will be seen as limiters to progress. We’re seeing companies succeed with operational managers who are either from engineering to start, or are really into the tech. Companies who organizationally pit IT and Operations against each other, rather than creating a collaborative environment will face the greatest challenges.”

About the Author(s)

Scarlett Evans

Assistant Editor, IoT World Today

Scarlett Evans is the assistant editor for IoT World Today, with a particular focus on robotics and smart city technologies. Scarlett has previous experience in minerals and resources with Mine Australia, Mine Technology and Power Technology. She joined Informa in April 2022.

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