16 Ways Robots And RPA May Soon Change How We Live And Work

From the classic novels of Isaac Asimov to the Star Wars franchise on the big screen, robots have been a fixture of futuristic science fiction for decades. Today, robots and robotic process automation are taking on new roles in both the business and consumer worlds. Innovations in robotics and RPA can expand the capabilities of humans and organizations, safely manage work and events that entail physical risk, and free up humans for more creative, fulfilling work.

Tech experts say advanced robots and RPA may soon revolutionize health care, environmental stewardship and even international travel. Here, 16 members of Forbes Technology Council share new and upcoming robotics innovations that could truly make a big difference in the way we live and work.


1. Eliminating Plastic Waste In Oceans

While humanoid robots seem to frequently be in the news lately, I think innovation in robotics focused on eliminating trash and microplastics from the ocean will have a very significant impact. Social campaigns to reduce plastic consumption don’t achieve enough globally, and large-scale initiatives and advancements can overcome the lack of global coordination. - Guillermo Ramas, NotiSphere


2. Piloting Industrial Autonomous Vehicles

I believe there is a huge opportunity in the use of autonomous vehicles for industrial purposes. Farming is one area that comes to mind. Another is long-haul land transportation (via trucks and trains)—safety, performance and reliability could be improved with broader autonomous driving and fleet management. - Jean-Baptiste Coger, Plato


3. Constructing Buildings

Robotics will have a profound impact on the way we deliver buildings—the backdrop to our lives, work and play. Construction is the largest industry, yet it has experienced the least productivity gains in the last few decades. With a depleting labor pool and the need to double our building stock by 2060, construction will have to turn to robotics both to aid existing processes and, eventually, to automate processes. - Aleksandr Gampel, Cuby Technologies, Inc.


4. Providing Emergency Services

I see huge potential in the application of robotics in emergency services. Robots can easily become first responders, whether in disaster areas or in the medical field. They can get to places faster, enter restricted areas and function in situations that are too high-risk for humans. Robots can deliver faster and better services while protecting the lives of human first responders. - Peter Abualzolof, Mashvisor


5. Treating Illnesses

There are some new and interesting nanorobot innovations related to medical care, including the treatment of illnesses or interactions with DNA. Already, nanorobots have been used to treat pneumonia in mice, and “nanoswimming” applications for treating cancer and strokes are in the research phase. - Kim Gunnelius, Ficolo


6. Performing Surgery

Robotic surgeries are poised to dramatically change the caliber of care that patients have access to around the world. Not only does this technology offer new levels of precision, fewer complications and shorter hospital stays, but it also makes premier care more equitable by extending the clinical reach of world-class surgeons by allowing surgery to be conducted in person or remotely. - Matt Dickson, Stericycle Communication Solutions


7. Powering Intelligent Virtual Assistants

As humans become increasingly busy, intelligent virtual assistants could help us keep track of activities, take meeting notes, send emails, craft actionable summaries and prescribe tasks from action points. Also, as about 40% of seniors suffer from memory impairments, IVAs (as phone apps or live robot programs) could offer memory jogs by routinely prompting seniors with key information. - Judah Longgrear, Nickelytics


8. Enhancing Human Capabilities

Quantum sensors will drive the next generation of the human-machine interface and provide a real opportunity for human enhancement. The ability to accurately perceive nerve impulses enables control of robotics. Possible applications include steering electronic devices with the power of thought, helping disabled people steer their prostheses or letting locked-in patients regain control over their communications. - Markus Pflitsch, Terra Quantum AG


9. Providing Personal Assistance For The Elderly

There is a need for tools to help a swelling elderly population by giving them the ability to live safe, rewarding lives on their own. The ability of robotic devices powered by artificial intelligence to provide physical and social stimulation and interaction will make them an increasingly valuable tool, especially where they are part of integrated healthcare provision. - Dominique BonteABI Research


10. Delivering Goods And Services

Precise drone and robotic delivery of goods and services is the next big thing. You will be able to take a picture of an exact location in your garage or backyard and get your items delivered by a drone to the exact table you had in the picture. That level of precise navigation and last-centimeter delivery will be enabled by a combination of robotics, image recognition and machine learning. - Ayman Shoukry, Specright Inc.


11. Performing Back-Office Tasks

Robotic process automation has an enormous impact on automating the back office—not just data entry but also data extraction from legacy systems. Even better, RPA and AI systems are complementary: RPA serves by extracting the data source and handling data entry, while AI delivers advanced decision making. Paired together, these technologies provide the backbone for digital transformation. - Matt Berseth, NLP Logix


12. Enabling Scientific Research

Tiny robotics is a door to the future of surgical medicine, zoology and ornithology, as these nano-sized controllable machines are allowing us to explore the world from a previously unachievable “nano” perspective. For example, the 0.5-millimeter-wide “crab” robot from Northwestern University can bend, twist, walk, turn and even jump, and it can be (and already is) used for researching insect life. - Aleks Farseev,


13. Monitoring Energy Systems In Commercial Buildings

One of the biggest innovations in robotics is cutting down energy costs for commercial buildings. Microrobots can get into spaces humans cannot; real-time monitoring of HVAC systems and sensors on building equipment can lead to a significant reduction in the money commercial real estate operators spend on energy and maintenance. - Buyan Thyagarajan, Eigen X


14. Farming And Food Processing

We’re likely to see continued growth in the use of robotics in agriculture as the sector continues to face worker shortages. Robots are already being used to plant, tend and harvest crops, and engineers are working on even more advanced systems for use in the fields. Robots are also being tested in the food-processing industry, where they are being used for tasks such as slicing meat. - John Giordani


15. Manufacturing Small-Batch, Personalized Pharmaceuticals

The use of robotics to manufacture small-batch, personalized drugs will reinvent how we live, age and thrive. Today, pharmaceutical manufacturing is a mass-production effort lacking customization. In an era of personalized medicine, robotic manufacturing will enable the production of individual prescriptions that blend the right drugs at the right dosage for use at the right time—all in a single pill. - Mark Francis, Electronic Caregiver


16. Assisting International Travelers

As we’ve seen for a few years now in Seoul’s Incheon International Airport, robots can be used for both live information and translation. This can help encourage a feeling of warmth and certainty for international travelers, despite being in an unfamiliar environment. - Wendy Johansson, MiSalud Health