How a human-robot workforce can increase efficiency

November 9, 2021, 6:00 PM UTC

With a labor shortage in certain industries and changing demands from consumers, a hybrid workforce of humans and robots can help companies work smarter and faster.

“When we look across industries, we see that revenue potential opportunity to be about 38% on average, so really a significant revenue potential opportunity,” H. James Wilson, managing director of information technology and business research at Accenture said at Fortune Brainstorm A.I. in Boston on Tuesday.

Wilson shared the example of how BMW has brought flexible and collaborative robots into their assembly plant. 

“These human and machine teams, these robot and assembly worker teams, are about 85% more productive,” he said. A significant part of the reason, he said, is that customers are now ordering more customized vehicles, so the robots are able to help individualize each car.

Peter Chen, CEO of Covariant, a company that makes an A.I. brain that helps robots sense what to pick up and when, among other tasks, added that it’s important that A.I. be able to “adapt to new situations on the fly.”

That’s one issue with which iRobot, maker of the popular robotic Roomba vacuums, has had to contend. 

“Everyone’s home is chaotic in its own unique way,” said Chris Jones, chief technology officer at iRobot.

While Roombas learn to map the rooms of a house and objects, such as a sofa or dinner table, they also need to learn to navigate around unexpected obstacles that could damage the robot—particularly pet waste.

“We are applying deep learning to pet waste detection,” Jones said.

The company stands by this technology with what it calls the POOP Guarantee. If a Roomba doesn’t avoid pet waste, Jones said the company will replace the robot.

When asked what that stands for, Jones replied: “Pet owners, official promise.”

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