Alfawise Magnetic (mikhail62 / Shutterstock.com)
A growing consumer market, products in this sector are often described as "smart home" technology. Devices like Apple HomePod, Amazon Echo, and Google Home (among others) are used to connect to a variety of other "smart home" systems, automating doorbells, lighting, and other home necessities. As this sector grows, automated ironing systems, wardrobes, and other innovations are aiding consumers in automating household chores.
In addition to stationary home automation technology, home robotics are another burgeoning sector. While robotic vacuum cleaners have been on the market for over 15 years, other types of cleaning bots are beginning to enter consumers homes as well. The Alfawise Magnetic robot uses microfiber pads and suction to clean windows, while the Worx Landroid automatically mows your lawn.
Customer Service Robots
Pepper by Soft Bank Robotics
This sector's bots are often similar in design to home robots used for personal assistance and entertainment, but on a larger scale. Robots like Pepper and Nao by SoftBank Robotics, as well as Hitachi's Emiew. Nao features feet and legs and mimics human walking, while Pepper and Emiew use wheels.
Both Pepper and Nao are working in a variety of customer service capacities, including hotels and industry exhibitions. As a large segment of Hitachi's business is in transport hubs, the company hopes the Emiew will be useful in transport settings.
While too expensive for most homes at $3k-$10k per robot, these bots are a great choice for businesses looking to improve their service using the latest robotic technology.
Additive Manufacturing/3D Printing
While additive manufacturing has been making waves in a variety of industries in the last decade, on a technical level, the process has been around as long as printing itself has - even archaic newspaper presses used 3D ink on 3D paper.
Now, however, technological advancements have allowed this process to be used for industrial applications, using metals such as steel to create components. Rather than cutting away steel from a block to form the shape needed, additive manufacturing tech adds layers of material to build a 3D industrial component. While hard metals with high melting points remain difficult for most 3D printers, progress has been made. In addition, newer materials hold the potential to replace traditional metals in certain applications, while providing even better functionality.
Meanwhile, a whole new generation of materials is emerging which could not only replace traditional metals in some instances but also provide better functionality.
Software > Hardware
A parallel virtual world is emerging, thanks to the digitalization of everything from integrated systems to industrial components.
Today, factories have the ability to test their end products in a virtual environment before they're ever built in the "real world." The increasing dominance of software provides a huge financial benefit to manufacturers, by decreasing the cost of testing everything from architectural models to product prototypes.
"Generative design" is another way in which automation is improving manufacturing - this feature allows industrial designers to generate many iterations of a specific design in one click.
With many similarities to logistics robots, autonomous cars are expected to take over the roadways much sooner than previously anticipated. Many established automotive manufacturers have launched self-driving vehicles, and it may be a little less than a decade before the bulk of new vehicles are at least partially autonomous.
In addition to cars and trucks, autonomous trains are also being developed. Considering the reduced complexity of moving along a railway line in comparison to a road, driverless trains are well on their way to overhauling mass transit and a variety of other sectors. Singapore's Mass Rapid Transit lines are currently the longest automated transit system in the world, but with many other countries set to implement the technology, driverless transit is expected to become the norm sooner rather than later.
In non-consumer applications, logistics looks to be the most promising area for autonomous vehicles. Cars, trucks and trains are already in the process of changing the face of logistics, but burgeoning technological advancements promise to deliver driverless tractors and farm equipment, and eventually, "pilotless" airplanes.