Robots don't get sick: robotization and the time of new possibilities as one of the results of the pandemic

The COVID-19 crisis in the economy and especially in healthcare has significantly accelerated the digitalization process and, in particular, robotization, making the latter one of the main trends in technological development. The pandemic has shown the degree of dependence on the human factor. The need to reduce this dependence forces many companies to invest heavily in robotics and look for new opportunities to use them.

Coronavirus pandemic spurs labor market transformation

Many experts point out that the changes in robotics and automation will be impressive and will be an active growth. At the same time, it is not quite right to consider the primary goal of robotics to completely replace people with robots because robots increase people's productivity, help them create a safer working environment and improve their quality of life, as well as provide opportunities for professional growth of employees and getting better-paid jobs. The pandemic has created a considerable demand for more robots than ever before. It has dramatically accelerated automation and robotization in many areas, including epidemiological safety reasons. For example, after the pandemic began, there was a surge in demand for cleaning and disinfection robots. And major retailers, such as Amazon or Walmart, have noticeably expanded the use of robots in warehouses and sorting facilities. According to the International Federation of Robotics, the number of robots cs (IFR) was barely 1 million in 2009, and it took more than 50 years to create them. Just eight years later, in 2017, the number was already 2 million, and in 2020, 3 million robots worldwide. About 300,000 different robots are sold worldwide each year. Machines and people will collaborate. In 2022, there will be 58 million new jobs related to robots and artificial intelligence. Thus, 43% of companies surveyed in the study said they are already set to reduce their workforce thanks to technological advances. Analysts predict that by 2025, the time spent on current work tasks by robots and humans will equalize. Although there will still be more new jobs eventually than the jobs that automation will destroy, we see a situation in which job cuts have accelerated, and new job creation has slowed. Employers say 85 million jobs will disappear by 2025 due to robotics, but 97 million new jobs will appear as the relationship between machines, algorithms, and human changes in the labor market.

Digitalization and COVID-19: Technology Trends in the Pandemic

The digitalization process will be particularly active in areas such as cloud technology, big data processing (Big Data), and Internet commerce. But while these areas have long been leaders in digitalization and robotization, they have recently joined sites such as encryption, work with artificial intelligence, and the development of non-humanoid robots. The COVID-19 pandemic has not only confronted society with new global problems but has also caused the development of areas such as online payments, telemedicine, and robotization. These technologies help reduce the spread of the coronavirus while allowing businesses to maintain their operations. In addition, such technologies can help society become more flexible and resilient to pandemics and other threats. Technology plays a vital role in stabilizing society in quarantine and forced isolation during a pandemic, and it can also have a longer-term impact after COVID-19.

"Dangerous" work

During a pandemic, "dangerous work" is any job that involves contact with other people. The demand for robots capable of doing human jobs has increased dramatically worldwide. According to statistics related to robotics for infectious diseases," robots of various types have been directly participating in the battle against the epidemic in at least 33 countries. Because of the coronavirus, the scope of their use has expanded considerably. Never before have robots been used for such a wide range of tasks. People who used to think it was stupid to use robots to deliver food are now using them to buy their groceries. And small businesses have begun to use robots as well.

Rapid-response robots

Many robotics experts, accustomed to public concerns about safety, privacy, and job loss, were surprised by how quickly attitudes toward robots have changed. Procedures that used to take six months were greatly accelerated during COVID-19, and regulations were relaxed. At the beginning of the pandemic, there was an acute need for robots in hospitals and clinics. In Europe, Asia, and North America, the demand for robots to disinfect rooms and connect patients with doctors and relatives increased. Security services used to ground and flying robots to disinfect public areas and track people who violated self-isolation. Many home care companies had to lay off employees because, in a pandemic, most retirees were afraid to come into contact with humans. Also, hospitals and other health care facilities sought to keep staff numbers to a minimum to avoid the risk of infection. The coronavirus made clinic leaders realize how important it was for staff to attend to their primary duties without being distracted by extraneous tasks. Because of the pandemic, people have become more tolerant of robots, and robotics specialists, in turn, have increased sensitivity to the requirements of ordinary people.

Major technological trends and their impact on the economy and business

1. Online commerce and robotic delivery

In late 2002, the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak led to significant growth of online trading platforms in China, both in the b2b and b2c sectors. Similarly, COVID-19 has transformed online sales from an added benefit to an absolute necessity for businesses worldwide. For example, some bars and restaurants have gone on to offer happy hour promotions for online ordering and delivery during quarantine periods. A robust logistics system should always support online sales. That said, courier delivery is not safe in terms of the threat of virus transmission. Therefore, many delivery companies and restaurants in the US, China, and other countries have launched contactless delivery services in which the order transfer is not hand-to-hand but at a specific location, without direct human contact. In many cases, robots were initially used for food delivery. Still, this practice was later extended to delivering medicines, other necessary goods, and even special cargo, parcels, and documents. Chinese giants in the sphere of e-commerce have significantly increased the pace of the development of robotic delivery systems. In parallel, processes have been launched to form clear protocols to guarantee the sanitary safety of delivered products.

2. Electronic and contactless payments

Cash bills can facilitate the spread of the virus. Consequently, significant banks in the United States, China, and South Korea have presented various measures to ensure banknotes' safety before they enter circulation. The recommended payment methods to prevent the spread of COVID-19 were electronic payments such as bank cards, e-wallets, etc. Electronic payments allow for online purchases, paying for goods, services, utilities, and even tax deductions. However, the World Bank reports that more than 1.7 billion people worldwide do not have direct access to electronic payments. Their accessibility depends, in particular, on the Internet coverage and availability of necessary devices for cash withdrawal.

3. Remote Work

Many businesses advise their workers to work remotely. Technology such as VPNs (virtual private networks), VoIP (voice over IP), virtual conferencing, cloud technology, collaboration tools, and even facial recognition technology enable virtual backgrounds to protect the privacy of the home. That said, in addition to preventing the spread of the coronavirus, remote working saves time spent on the road and provides greater flexibility in the work schedule for the employee. However, remote work can pose additional challenges for employers and employees. Ensuring information security, privacy protection, and timely technical support can be problematic, as the recent class-action lawsuits against Zoom have shown. In addition, remote work can exacerbate employment law conflicts - such as workplace security or employee tax issues. Workers may also experience problems related to loneliness and a lack of work-life balance. Suppose remote work becomes more common after the COVID-19 pandemic ends. In that case, there will likely be more opportunities for employers to hire cheaper labor from the regions as well as save on the costs associated with renting. An updated legal framework will be needed, as well as additional psychological studies to determine the impact of remote work on people. At the same time, not every job can be done from home, which results in inequity. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics notified that approximately 25 percent of workers worked remotely occasionally in 2017-2018. Conversely, employees with a college degree are five times more likely to secure remote-working jobs than employees with only a high school diploma. Some fields, such as medicine or manufacturing, do not involve remote work opportunities. The rules governing data transfer, as well as taxation, may need to be revised if the number of cross-border digital services grows significantly.

4. Distance learning

By mid-April 2020, 191 countries had announced the suspension of learning in schools and universities, affecting a total of at least 1.57 billion students. Many educational institutions have started offering online courses to avoid being disrupted by quarantine measures. Online learning uses the same kinds of tools as remote work does. They include virtual reality technology, augmented reality, 3D printing, and using robots with artificial intelligence as teachers. One of the issues with online learning is that technology can increase inequalities between people, both in terms of digital readiness and in a property sense. In addition, distance learning can create economic pressures on parents, most often women, who are forced to remain at home and watch their kids, which can lead to a decrease in their productivity at work.

5. Telemedicine

Telemedicine can be an effective way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while fully preserving primary care processes. Wearable personal IoT devices can monitor vital signs. Chatbots can make initial diagnoses based on symptoms provided by the patient. In addition, during the pandemic, many hospitals had employees taking visitors' temperatures at the entrance. The robots told visitors what their temperature was and could measure oxygen and blood glucose levels noninvasively - without needles or pain. They could also determine breathing capacity with a spirometer and blood pressure with a tonometer. Also, special terminals were used to monitor the body temperature of people in different institutions. The measurement is non-contact and takes five seconds, and the error is within 0.2 degrees Celsius. Such terminals were applied in the USA, Greece, Germany, and other countries. A more advanced modification can block the skipping of people with elevated temperatures. It recognizes a person's face with a temperature above 37 degrees and sends an alarm to the security system. From there, the pass is blocked. To reduce the risk of infecting nursing staff, the need for automated testing of large numbers of people for COVID arose. Machines have been created that can gently swab a patient's mouth to test for coronavirus. The robot looks like an arm mounted on a particular frame with a computer vision system and a 3D-printed "hand" for taking samples. Other robots could take nasal swabs themselves for analysis of COVID-19. In this case, the robot uses facial recognition technology to determine the exact location of the nostrils. The biomaterial goes into a sealed container that is safe to transport to the lab. During the pandemic in Japan, the demand for social robots increased. For example, one of the robot models was in the form of a cushion cat. If you pet it, it will wag its tail in response. They invented a robot for those who want a pet but cannot because of allergies, frequent trips, or other reasons. Against the pandemic, the therapeutic robot began to be purchased by those who had a hard time isolating themselves. Telemedicine must, however, be paid for by health insurance in nations where the cost is considerable. Its execution needs a certain amount of technological literacy and a reliable Internet connection, among other things. It is essential to note that given the strict regulation of the medical field in various countries, in most cases, doctors can only serve patients in the same jurisdiction. At the time of their development, the medical field norms did not provide for the possibilities and specifics of telemedicine.

6. Online Entertainment

Although quarantine measures have significantly reduced interpersonal interactions, people's creative efforts have moved entertainment into the online sphere. "Cloud raves" and online concert broadcasts are gaining momentum worldwide; Chinese filmmakers are releasing movies online, and museums and cultural heritage sites offer virtual tours. Online video game traffic has surged since the beginning of the epidemic.

7. Supply Chain 4.0

COVID-19 caused problems in the global supply chain. Many industries were entirely shut down once self-isolation and quarantine restrictions were implemented. While the need for food and personal protective equipment increased, some nations put various export restrictions. The heavy reliance on paperwork, lack of data transparency, and limited diversity and flexibility left the existing supply chain vulnerable to any pandemic. By enhancing data accuracy and promoting data exchange, major Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies like cloud computing, big data, the Internet of Things, and blockchain help build a more resilient supply chain management system.

8. 3D printing

Technology utilizing 3D printing has been used to reduce the supply chain crisis and the effects of export bans. 3D printing provides flexibility in the production process: a single printer can produce different products, depending on the design and materials used, and parts can be made quickly without lengthy procurement and delivery processes. However, mass production using 3D printing faces several obstacles. First, it can cause intellectual property problems if a patent protects the produced parts. Second, the production of some products, such as surgical masks, is subject to regulations that can require lengthy approvals. Other unresolved issues so far include the protection of design rights, its place of origin and impact on commerce, and liability for the quality of 3D-printed products produced.

9. Robotization and drones

COVID-19 made the world aware of our dependence on human interactions in all processes. Businesses most affected were those involved in labor-intensive processes such as retail, food production, industry, and logistics. COVID-19 gave a significant boost to the use of robots and robotics research. In recent weeks, robots have been used in many processes, from disinfecting surfaces to delivering food to people in quarantine. Drones have also been applied to walk dogs and supply goods, including tests for coronavirus from hospitals to laboratories. Drones have been used in China to disinfect hospitals and other institutions. They move autonomously through corridors, go up and down elevators, and disinfect rooms on their own without human intervention. Each robot is equipped with powerful ultraviolet lamps that destroy the DNA or RNA of any microorganism.

10. 5G and information and communications technology (ICT)

The above technological trends rely on a stable, high-speed, affordable Internet. As 5G demonstrates its importance in remote monitoring and medical consultation processes, the deployment of 5G connectivity in Europe has been delayed until it is most needed. The transition to 5G will lead to an increase in the cost of associated devices and communication rates. Addressing these issues in universal Internet access will continue to be a challenge amid the worldwide spread of 5G connectivity.

The importance of robotics and digitalization readiness

COVID-19 provided an impetus for innovative ideas in the robotics industry. Various companies accelerated the development of their devices, scaled-up production, or introduced new technologies to the world. The pandemic demonstrated the importance of robotization and digitalization, allowing businesses to work and everyday life to flow in as familiar a way as possible in a pandemic environment. Critical for companies and nations to remain competitive in a post-pandemic world will be developing the framework required to sustain a digital world, stay relevant amid rapidly evolving technology, and a human-centered and inclusive approach to managing technology development. According to the BBC, an estimated 200 million people have lost their jobs due to COVID-19. However, the financial burden most often falls on the most vulnerable members of society. Digitalization and the pandemic have accelerated the creation of new jobs. Mitigating the impact on the workforce and vulnerable populations is a challenge facing all businesses and nations. Addressing this challenge requires special attention and a timely and people-centered approach. In this situation, authorities must, in time, provide adequate training and social protection for the workforce to adapt to the changes.