How The Great Resignation Is Fueling Next-Generation Automation
The rapid reopening of the economy post-pandemic led to a major demand for workers in service-oriented industries, like servers, checkout clerks, hotel housekeepers, delivery people and farm and factory workers. In parallel, the government benefits and assistance provided during the pandemic allowed workers to become more selective and command higher wages, leading to a perfect storm of labor shortages. The era of the Great Resignation was quickly born.
These market conditions have led to an unprecedented acceleration in the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and robots to fill the gap or improve processes. The momentum for automation is being driven by necessity, as many companies cannot fully operate under the current labor conditions. Therefore, it now makes sense for companies to make the required capital investments to build the infrastructures to support more automated supply chains and operations.
Technology is advancing faster than ever, enabling employers to deploy these solutions at a rapid pace. Investments in automation have grown by 26%, with 43% of companies considering reducing their workforce as a result.
Fast Food Gets Faster Through Automation
The fast-food industry is rapidly leveraging automation and robotics. Technology startups have emerged that are introducing new ways of doing things. For instance, Chowbotics, which was acquired by DoorDash in February 2021, created an innovative vending machine that produces customizable salads and grain and poke bowls. This provides fresh, healthy alternatives in vending areas for hospitals, universities, airports, food courts and many other locations.
In another example, ValyantAI is creating next-generation conversational user interfaces to power a new generation of digital workers. Think of Siri and Alexa but with more fluid, conversational interactions. Although they are looking to target over 20 different industry use cases, they started with the fast-food industry, focusing on takeout orders with drive-thru AI capability. Instead of being greeted by someone with a headset at a takeout window, the ValyantAI platform performs the interactions, including making menu recommendations and cross-selling. From there, the order goes into the POS system and is fulfilled through the normal restaurant process. This significantly automates the process, which reduces errors and customer frustration.
Factory and warehouse automation is another use case in which the technology is gaining momentum. Kroger, the grocery store chain, opened an automated grocery warehouse in Monroe, Ohio, earlier this year and is planning to open 20 more across the U.S. The warehouse makes use of AI and advanced robotics to provide automated fulfillment for online grocery orders. Over 1,000 bots use totes to pick products that are then bagged and prepared for shipment. Intelligent algorithms guide the process, making sure that products are packed to be evenly weighted, with fragile items on top.
Robocops Are Lowering Crime
Security monitoring is an emerging area in which autonomous robots are being applied. For instance, Knightscope has created autonomous security robots (ASRs) that can be used to augment existing security programs. The robots have four internal cameras that continuously capture a 360-degree view and can also scan license plates and monitor Wi-Fi networks and MAC addresses.
Although the technology is still in its infancy, it is having some initial success in reducing crime in places like Huntington Park, California, where crime reports were down by 46%, and Las Vegas, Nevada, where 911 calls for an apartment complex went from the top three for complexes in the northeast part of the valley to under the top 10. Although the technology is not likely to replace human security guards, it is expected that more businesses will see the value of autonomous robots and implement them into their security operations.
AI Increases Developer Productivity
AI continues to evolve as developers search for practical ways to augment human activities such as software development. One such case is Github’s Copilot plugin, which uses AI to aid developers by making coding suggestions based on the comments and context of the file you are editing. As you develop your code, Copilot makes suggestions regarding functions, docstrings, code snippets, comments and more.
Automating Farm To Table
Companies like FarmWise are driving the robotic farming industry by creating a fleet of autonomous farming equipment to apply fungicides and insecticides to crops. This can result in streamlining operations and increasing food production efficiency. The machines utilize AI computer vision, and active learning occurs each time the machine works in a field. Every week, the algorithms are updated to capture that learning.
Machines And Humans Working Together
Although some may argue otherwise, AI is good news for the human race. As AI gains further acceptance and is deployed in these new business areas, there will be increased demand for specialized skills to develop the data sets and models needed to train AI systems to perform the work. AI also needs humans to ensure that AI systems are functioning properly, safely and responsibly. Human workers will also benefit from AI amplifying decision-making abilities by providing deeper insights. Even in a manufacturing setting, robots and humans can coexist. A robot can handle repetitive or hazardous tasks like heavy lifting while human workers can perform complementary tasks that require dexterity and more human judgment.
The current labor shortage and wage growth will continue to spur the need for companies to apply innovative approaches and accelerate the use of AI technologies to automate businesses. These technologies will continue to mature while helping to increase productivity and lower costs.