How Small Businesses Can Harness the Power of Robotics


Robots are a concept that has interested the public since they were first conceived. They are fun, interesting, and, until recently, mostly hypothetical. That has changed considerably in the last few years. Now, robotic technology is not only available, it’s common and affordable enough to be used even by Small Businesses.

In this article, we discuss robotics. What it can do, what it can’t, and how it may reshape the Small Businesses world.

How Business Robotics Work

Robots use sensors to collect and process information in real-time. They are, essentially, a combination of AI, data, and physical engineering. The information they take in is usually processed within the unit itself. Robots do not think, but filter data through algorithms that allow them to “act” much faster than humans responding to the same external stimulus.
Because of this framework, robots are both highly effective, and limited. For now, they are only as good as the data and AI driving them.

Still, robotics is taking off at an enormously high rate. Surgeons now use robots to make cleaner incisions, and the transportation industry is competing to see which manufacturer will debut the first dependable self-driving car.

Myth: Robotics Is a Luxury of Big Business

Robotics Is a Luxury of Big Business

Companies like Amazon use robotics to reduce personal costs and make their processes more effective. In fact, Amazon’s Kiva robotic system is a good example of technology that makes robotics look remote and inaccessible to the average business.

Kiva is a warehouse management robot that costs an average of about $1 million per unit. Large warehouses spend approximately $20 million on the system—just a hair or two more than most small businesses will be able to fork over.

The idea, of course, is that while robots have a huge sticker price, they save money in the long run because they don’t require a salary or benefits, and they will never take a sick day. Great right?Except if you are running a business with small margins, spending $1 million on anything probably isn’t in the cards.

It Doesn’t have to Be

Robotic technologies have become democratized in recent years. There are now systems available for under $5000 which can be used to speed up processes, and help small businesses run more efficiently.

Support Your Staff

Look for robotic technologies that can make your existing employee’s jobs easier. For example, in warehouses, there are robots that can locate and move merchandise. They still require human assistance, but the people working there can move swifter and easier thanks to the support.

In grocery stores, robots take inventory. Human employees are still needed to stock the shelves and reface merchandise, but their burden is eased by the presence of machines that can take on some of their previous responsibilities.

Reduce Costs

Of course, the most significant cost-saving virtue of robotics is that machines can take the place of human employees. While a robot might have an enormous sticker price, the idea is that the expense will be recuperated through savings in the long run.

The robots that are available to small businesses may not be sophisticated enough to call for a reduction in labor — though they might allow you to reconsider your personnel needs in the long term.

For example, with the addition of an inventory-taking robot, you may discover over time that you don’t need to replace the stocker that just gave their two-week notice.

For the most part, however, efficiency and accuracy will be the biggest boons for small businesses. That inventory-taking robot might do a better job than its human counterpart. And while it is taking on a responsibility, your human employees will have the opportunity to focus more of their attention on tasks that produce higher value.

What Jobs Can Be Automated?

For the most part, only jobs that require predictable, repetitive action can be automated. That’s why you’ll see lots of inventory-taking robots at your local grocery store, but you won’t be greeted by a machine at the checkout line.

Inventory taking is consistent work. Scan and repeat. Checkouts can be complicated. A customer might have a question. A coupon. An item that needs to be weighed. A desire not to be met by a weird, glowing robot face.

The fear that robots will shrink the job market is accurate, with the caveat that this process will be slow, and limited.

For now, small businesses should look for jobs that do not involve variables and see if there are robots available to fill them.

A Complicated Decision

The decision on whether or not to automate or replace positions with robotics is complicated. On the one hand, robots and other automated technologies save money and have the potential to improve processes.

On the Other Hand, They Come at a Cost

No, not just a financial cost. A human one. Small businesses must decide: will something be lost if I replace this human with a machine?

Consider, for example, the many businesses that have replaced customer service representatives with computer programs. On the one hand, customers can often resolve their problems quicker than they did in the past. On the other hand, they lose the human touch.

As automation and robotic technology grow and proliferate, businesses everywhere will have to decide where to draw the line.

For now, the question remains at least somewhat hypothetical. The robots are coming!…slowly. And as they make their metallic walk towards are stores, the business world, and the general public has enough time to think about how to receive them.

In the meantime, robotics, particularly for small businesses, will mostly supplement and support existing staff rather than replace it outright.


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