The Rise of the Robotic Co-Worker

Robots have long been considered symbols of a better future with machines taking on the tasks people don?t want to do or assignments deemed nearly impossible. Remember Rosie, the household maid on?The?Jetsons? ?Think R2-D2 and his save-the-world tendencies. Today, the future that many people?thought was only possible through television and film is here.

While some of today?s robots?resemble Rosie and R2-D2 in their traditional hardware presentation, new types are emerging, designed to address the needs of specific industries or work settings.?

Mainly used to expedite manufacturing until recently, robots?are increasingly appearing outside?factory floors,?in hospitals, labs and offices. To meet the requirements of these varying situations, developers have designed new models, such as soft robots and software robots.

Soft robots, made of a material that allows them to switch between hard and soft states so as?to squeeze through small spaces, have the potential to assist with space explorations, break ground in the way surgeries are performed and complete certain rescue missions.?

Software robots, on the other hand, are virtual and can perform some of the tasks that administrators and white-collar workers do to help accelerate and automate operational processes in offices. The software robot is ?taught? through a flowchart-like interface (without coding) to drive systems of record and follow the business rules needed to complete a process as a person would.

This creates a ?digital workforce? which represents a whole new operational, highly scalable, reliable and auditable work capability for businesses. The use of software robots in this context has been called robotic process automation, or RPA.?

While many people have fantasized about a day when they?can delegate chores to robots and let them take the reins when it comes to innovation, the rise of these new breeds has left some observers?wondering about their?value to the workforce. Many have expressed concern that by taking on core processes in factories, labs, hospitals, offices, robots will make people irrelevant — and unemployed.

But instead what’s?resulting with?early adoption?of these machines is that there’s room for both robots and people — and the combination is enabling an unparalleled level of efficiency, customer service and innovation.?

Take Telefonica, for instance. Under the direction of its head of digital service and?transformation Wayne Butterfield, the telecom provider turned to?software robotics made by my company, Blue Prism,?after fully exhausting other methods of reducing costs while increasing efficiency of the back-office transactions it completes for customers.

While software robots were an obvious choice in terms of speeding up processes and slashing corporate spending, members of the IT department were skeptical. They doubted?whether the software robots were capable of accurately completing complex procedures like transferring customers? SIM card data from old phones to new devices.