nternational robot sales boom
- Date: Wed, 31 Oct 2001 13:31:07 -0800
AP - Sales of industrial robots have risen to record levels and they have
huge, untapped potential for domestic chores like mowing the lawn and
vacuuming the carpet, according to a UN report.
The report, to be released on Wednesday, predicted that the number of robots
used in tasks as diverse as assembling cars, cleaning sewers, detecting
bombs and performing intricate surgery would continue to grow in the coming
"Robots are getting better and better and cheaper and cheaper," said Jan
Karlsson, author of the UN Robotics 2001 survey published by the UN Economic
Commission for Europe and the International Federation of Robotics.
An average robot sold in 2000 would have cost only a fifth of a comparable
model in 1990, he said.
The report said some 100,000 new robots were installed worldwide in 2000,
nearly half of them in Japan - the biggest user - which increased its
purchases by 32 per cent after a slump the previous year.
European Union countries bought 30,000 new units, and North America, 13,000.
The market was worth some $US5-6 billion ($A9.95-11.94 billion).
It said there were nearly 750,000 industrial robots in existence at the end
last year. This was likely to rise to 975,600 by the end of 2004.
The vast majority of robots were used by the manufacturing industry. But
increasingly, they had uses off the assembly line, the report said.
For instance, it said there were 3,000 underwater robots in use last year,
2,300 demolition robots and 1,600 surgical robots.
Some 50 robots for fire fighting and bomb detection and detonation were in
service. Karlsson said Israel was the main country using robots to detect
blow up explosive devices. The same robots could also be used in de-mining,
Asked whether robots could be used to replace postal workers in the wake of
the anthrax scares, Karlsson said there was huge potential to mechanise the
Some 1,000 robots were installed last year to sort parcels, he said. The US
postal service estimated that it had the potential to use up to 80,000
for sorting work - although existing models were not suitable for sorting
letters, he said.
The report predicted a big increase in domestic robots - for vacuum cleaning
and lawn mowing - from 12,500 at the end of last year to 425,000 by the end
Plans to market robotic vacuum cleaners had been put on hold until next year
as manufacturers tried to bring their price down to make them more
competitive. They would probably take three times longer to clean a carpet
than their human-powered equivalent and would likely have problems with
tassels on the end of rugs.
"It's much faster to do it manually but you have to be there," said
The grass-cutting robots in use - either solar- or battery-powered - were
much slower than their more traditional rivals and could not cope with long
grass, he said.
But their low power did have certain advantages.
"It doesn't matter if your children and dogs are running around on the grass
at the same time," he said.
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