We may not be living on Mars or traveling to work using jet packs, but there’s no doubt the coming decade will bring many exciting technological advances. In this article, I want to outline the 25 key technology trends that I believe will shape the 2020s.
The cooperative robot model that China is expanding could hold vital lessons for other developing economies that also rely heavily on small businesses.
There’s a “factory of the future” being built in Shanghai, with $150 million in investment from Swiss-Swedish automation giant ABB. Slated for completion in 2020, the factory is a place where “robots will make robots,” according to ABB. But the cutting-edge robotics technology the facility hopes to showcase won’t cater only to heavy industrial needs. It will also largely feature “collaborative automation solutions” — known as cobots — that work with humans instead of replacing them. The facility is evidence of an emerging Chinese automation strategy that’s beginning to reshape the world’s approach to robotics.
Strategic Drivers of New Business Models
As the Fourth Industrial Revolution unfolds, companies are seeking to harness new and emerging technologies to reach higher levels of efficiency of production and consumption, expand into new markets, and compete on new products for a global consumer base composed increasingly of digital natives. More and more, employers are therefore also seeking workers with new skills from further afield to retain a competitive edge for their enterprises and expand their workforce productivity. Some workers are experiencing rapidly expanding opportunities in a variety of new and emerging job roles, while others are experiencing a rapidly declining outlook in a range of job roles traditionally considered ‘safe bets’ and gateways to a lifetime career.
Even as technological advancements pose challenges to existing business models and practices, over the coming years, these same dynamics of technological change are set to become the primary drivers of opportunities for new growth. For example, based on one recent estimate, even a somewhat moderately paced rollout of new automation technologies over the next 10 to 20 years would lead to an investment surge of up to US$8 trillion in the United States alone.
Combining human creativity and automation is unlocking new efficiencies.
The increased presence of robots on factory floors has been a boon to manufacturers, who have embraced automation as a way to increase efficiency and cut costs. But there’s been less optimism among human workers, who worry that the rise of robots will render human workers inessential.
In recent years, however, a new school of thought has gained ground: Rather than replace their human counterparts, the manufacturing robots of the future will work alongside them. This future can be seen in the arrival of “cobots,” robots designed to complement human workers. While humans excel at abstract thinking and problem solving, robots shine at bringing speed and accuracy to repetitive, sometimes dangerous tasks. Imagine a factory where robots do the heavy-lifting as humans focus on more meaningful work, where production lines can run unsupervised for weeks with minimal manufacturing defects. In the connected industrial workforce of the future, robots complement workers, improve productivity, and increase operational efficiency.