Boston Dynamics, DJI, Kuka & Co: The robotics market in 2020

Numerous companies as well as countries are positioning themselves in the robotics market of the future. The list ranges from Intel to Waymo.

The robot market is divided into four classifications of robots: Industrial, Autonomous, Remote Control, Augmentative as well as Humanoid Robots. In this article, we look at the companies as well as countries leading the market and working on the technology of the future.

Leading countries in robot development

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

Industrial robots represent the majority of today’s robot types. According to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), there were five core markets in the segment in 2019. China, Japan, the U.S., South Korea and Germany together own 74 percent of the world’s industrial robots. Within this group, Asian countries account for an incredible 68 percent. Europe is in second place with 18 percent, ahead of the USA. This is also strongly reflected in the automation of their industries.

In addition to the (industrial) use of robots, there is a second level of consideration which includes the countries specializing in the development of future generations of robots. The following overview attempts to look at both deployment and development of the robotics pioneers.

China

Part of their “Made in China 2025″ plan is to drive automation of their top 10 industries. To achieve this goal, China plans to increase its industrial robots from 150,000 in 2020 to 400,000 in 2030. This makes China the largest market for robots. Compared to other robotics nations, however, coverage in 2018 was “only” 140 robots for a workforce of 10,000, putting superpower China not even in the top 10.

Many processes are not yet automated in the world’s largest economy. The existing potential through increased efficiency with robots is staggering. But in addition to automating its industries, China also wants to become one of the market leaders for the development of robots. By 2025, there should be three to five competitive suppliers in the market. China’s Yangtze River Delta region serves as a starting point. Due to the tech-savvy nature of its population, it is highly likely that China will be among the first countries to lead service robots. In 2019, the Chinese government invested $577 million in robotics development to support its plans.

Japan

In the history of robotics, Japan is a force to be reckoned with. In 2018, the Japanese shipped 52 percent of all robots. In their “New Robot Strategy,” they position themselves as a firm foothold in the industry. The government has allocated a budget of $351 million for its realization. In addition to compensating for the acute shortage of skilled workers, a key reason for the focus on robotics is likely to be the potential care of the rapidly growing elderly population.

USA

Even though the U.S. boasts solid industrial coverage with 189 robots per 10,000 employees, the field of robotics is always kept an arm’s length away, according to various media outlets. In public, 70 percent of Americans view robots critically and as job killers. The fact that studies disprove this doesn’t change anything. The government allocated around 35 million US dollars for research and development of robots in 2019 as part of the National Robotics Initiative (NRI). Compared to the budgets of Asian countries, this is another indication of the subliminal importance. Nevertheless, America can access its very good universities and large technology companies as well as their expertise in the development of artificial intelligence.

South Korea

The country, which most Europeans may know mainly for its conflict with its northern brother, is one of the most automated countries in the world and an early adopter of industrial robots. South Korea doubled its automation between 2013 and 2018. The development budget was $126 million. Especially in the capital Seoul, people are very tech-savvy and open to change. The Internet of Things is much more advanced than in Europe and the rest of the world, as it is in many other Asian countries.

Germany

Germany’s strong position in robotics is explained by its large automotive sector. The sector is responsible for 30 percent of all industrial robot installations. There were around 338 robots for every 10,000 employees in 2018. The German government has allocated a budget of 50 million euros as part of the PAiCE program. Companies like Kuka are doing good research work and are among the market leaders.

Technology leader in the robotics market

The diversity of robotics is reflected in the spectrum of companies and researchers shaping the market and technology of the future. The “Big 4” (Fanuc, Yaskawa, ABB and Kuka) respresent the industrial robotics market with an estimated 56.4% net sales of the global market in 2018 [https://bit.ly/38Ni0H5]. However, there is also much to discover in the other robot classes as well as in their technology.

ABB Ltd (Zurich, Switzerland)

Robotics type: industrial robots
https://new.abb.com/products/robotics/de

Founded in the energy sector at the end of the 19th century, ABB is one of the “Big 4” of the industrial robot market, with more than 400,000 robots installed. Today, the group of companies still focuses on energy and automation solutions.

Blue Ocean Robotics (Odense, Denmark)

Robotics-Art: Robots for health care, agriculture and construction
www.blue-ocean-robotics.com

Founded in 2013, this startup focuses on service robots. In times of COVID-19, their UVD robot in particular stands out. In the U.S. alone, 75,000 people die each year from infections. Blue Ocean Robotics robots can be used in healthcare settings to remove 99.9 percent of all viruses and bacteria in treatment rooms within 15 minutes using UV-C light.

Boston Dynamics (Waltham, USA)

Robotics type: autonomous robots
www.bostondynamics.com

Back in 1992, Boston Dynamics was founded by Marc Raibert out of MIT. The company is known for their humanoid robot ATLAS. However, much of their development focuses on quadruped robots such as BigDog (e.g. for the military) or Cheetah. In 2019, Boston Dynamics entered the commercial quadruped market with SPOT. The dog-like robot can be modified and upgraded for various activities through open-source developments. Boston Dynamics also offers “classic” industrial robots with Pick and Handle.

DJI (Shenzhen, China)

Robotics type: Drones
www.dji.com/de

For years, there’s been no way around DJI, and not just for filmmakers and hobby pilots. The Chinese drone manufacturer develops multicopters for public safety, energy, construction and agriculture. Thanks to increasingly smart assistant systems, the drones are able to autonomously perform more and more complex tasks. Thanks to modern hardware, DJI drones are also becoming increasingly powerful and affordable.

Fanuc Corporation (Oshino, Japan)

Robotics type: industrial robot
www.fanuc.eu/de/de

Since 1956, Japanese company Fanuc has been a driver of factory automation. With 600,000 industrial robots installed, they call themselves the international market leader. Fanuc operates in 108 countries worldwide and covers the entire industrial sector. In particular, their smart systems for connected factories, in which data is analyzed using artificial intelligence and used to optimize work processes, make Fanuc one of the most innovative companies in robotics.

Intel (Santa Clara, USA)

Robotics type: Technology
www.intelrealsense.com

The Santa Clara-based chipmaker has developed Intel® RealSense™, a revolutionary camera that makes it much easier for robots to perceive and understand their environment. With 360-degree perception, only one camera is needed to allow the robot to interact with nearby objects.

iRobot (Bedford, USA)

Robotics type: autonomous robots
www.irobot.de/

Another MIT spinoff, iRobot is the undisputed leader of robotic vacuum cleaners. Yet the company, founded in 1990, has had a troubled history developing robots for the military as well as for space exploration. Today, iRobot is known to private users for its Roomba vacuum cleaner. This is emblematic of the entire autonomous robot class. The core technology behind Roomba is artificial intelligence, especially Deep Learning.

Kuka AG (Augsburg, Germany)

Robotics type: industrial robot
www.kuka.com/de-de

Founded in Augsburg in 1898, Kuka gained its first experience in the automotive industry and developed into an expert around welding machines. Over time, it became more involved in automation. In 1972, Kuka supplied Daimler-Benz with the first European robot-operated welding transfer line. Today, the company is a market leader in robotics in industry as well as in medicine and other sectors.

Microsoft (Redmond, USA)

Robotics type: Technology
www.microsoft.com

Microsoft is all about cutting-edge technology. With the announcement of Windows IoT as a supported platform for its popular open-source robotics framework Robot Operating System (ROS), the company has taken a giant step into the market. Robotics developers now have access to Microsoft’s machine learning, computer vision and Azure cloud capabilities.

Open Bionics (Bristol, United Kingdom)

Robotics type: medical prosthetics
https://openbionics.com/

Improving the human body with affordable yet stylish prosthetics — this is the vision that earned Joel Gibbard and Samantha Payne an award as Europe’s Top Start-Up Founders in 2018. In collaboration with Disney, Open Bionics is working on functional as well as affordable 3D-printed prosthetic arms for children. Hopefully, the days of having to hide for physical limitations will soon be history. True to the motto: “Welcome to the future, where disabilities are superpowers.”

Waymo (Mountain View, USA)

Robotics type: autonomous cars
www.waymo.com

Started in 2009 as the Google Self-Driving Car Project, Waymo focuses on developing self-driving cars. Its vehicles have driven tens of billions of miles in simulations and 20 million miles on public roads in 25 U.S. cities. In Arizona, Waymo is also offering autonomous cabs on a test basis.

Yaskawa Electric Corporation (Kitakyūshū, Japan)

Robotics type: industrial robot
www.yaskawa-global.com/

Japanese robotics manufacturer Yaskawa Electric celebrated its centennial in 2015. In doing so, the company started with motors until 1977, when it fully committed to automation and robotics with their first industrial robot, the MOTOMAN-L10. Today, it is one of the “Big 4” largest industrial robot manufacturers.

6+ years Product Manager. Future enthusiast. Passionate traveller. Based in Potsdam/Berlin.