When it comes to industrial robots we often focus on lightning fast line workers like the flexpicker, or heavy lifters like Kiva, or just cool looking podiums with arms like the Motoman SDA10. There's a whole realm of bots, however, that are designed just for the small manufacturer and fit on desktops. Soldering circuits, laying down adhesive, or just etching designs, these robots are the unsung heroes of the industrial world. Check out the videos below.
Why are the little desktop droids so important? They bridge a gap between large scale manufacturers and individual robot enthusiasts. Much less expensive than a warehouse sized system, small scale industrial bots have to be versatile enough to fit a wide variety of situations. Perhaps that's why so many of the robots in this scale are dispensers. Keeping much the same hardware, but changing the programming and supplied materials allows one series of robots to perform a huge variety of tasks. Even desktop 3D printers like Makerbot, which straddle the divide between manufacturing and hobbying, are basically just cooler kinds of dispensers.
Of course, one of the great things about robots are that they can fill any niche for which they are designed. Looking at success of the desktop dispensing machines you can see how a robotics solution might be found for almost any industrial problem, no matter its size. Want to detail cars, or determine the gender of baby turkeys, or inflate balloons? Chances are, there's a way that a robot can help you. The only real limiting factor is money. Is it cheaper for a robot to do it? Then it probably will.
Which makes you stop and think about what humans will be left to do. As robotics advances enough in sophistication, almost every manufacturing step may become mechanized. Economically this will shift the landscape of employment as it already has in the United States and most other industrialized countries. Of course certain service industries will be supplanted by computers and digitalized personalities as well. We may be moving towards a civilization where work becomes a very scarce commodity. On the other hand, by shunting all forms of repetitive labor to computers and robots, we may finally all have the free time to do what we want. Like watch robots dance: