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COVID-19 will accelerate widespread adoption of robots - report

The COVID-19 pandemic will accelerate the usage and adoption of robots, according to new research from GlobalData.

It comes as artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics company Brain Corp announced yesterday that it has raised $36 million in funding to help meet the growing demand on the front lines of the crisis for autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) in retail, healthcare, airports, education and other industries. 

“We have always envisioned a world where robots make the lives of people safer, easier, and more productive,” says Brain Corp CEO Eugene Izhikevich. 

“Autonomous robots are playing a vital role in supporting essential businesses and their workers during this health crisis. This investment will help us continue our pace of innovation and fuel our growth as we execute on the opportunity in front of us.”

Brain Corp says the new funds will be used to further expand Brain Corp’s growth into new robotic applications beyond floor care, including inventory delivery, shelf analytics, and other applications that improve employee productivity, reduce costs, and enhance customer experiences. 

The company says manufacturing and sales efforts in new markets will also be bolstered by the new capital, with the company planning a foray into the European and Asia-Pacific (APAC) markets.

GlobalData thematic analyst Wafaa Hassan says the emphasis around the world put on social distancing and little human-to-human contact will hasten the mainstream introduction of robots into industrial and retail workflows.

“Robots have been replacing humans in certain jobs for some time, but the COVID-19 crisis is accelerating the process,” says Hassan.

“Robots will show their worth by performing tasks that human workers are unwilling or unable to do. 

“Retail giants such as Walmart and Kroger have been using Brain Corp’s cleaning robots for years, with Walmart announcing plans to add an additional 1,500 robotic floor cleaners to its existing fleet earlier this month. 

“Keeping stores and warehouses clean has become a priority during the pandemic.”

But Hassan says people need to get more comfortable with interacting with robots during their everyday life to see true widespread adoption.

“The COVID-19 crisis will ultimately increase the use of robotics across all industries. Primarily, they will be used for support functions such as cleaning and packing. 

“However, as consumers get more familiar with them and the robots themselves become smarter, they will increasingly be used to support customer-facing tasks.”

Brain Corp has revealed that retailers have significantly ramped up their use of robotic floor scrubbers as the COVID-19 outbreak grew this year.

According to the company’s data, autonomous usage of BrainOS-powered machines in retail locations in the U.S. spiked 13.6% in March 2020, compared to the same month last year, and 13% during Q1 of this year.

The company says BrainOS-enabled robots are on its way to deliver more than 250,000 hours of work over the next month.