• Robots are helping humans in a growing number of places - from archaeological sites to disaster zones to sewers.
  • The robots can gather data, squeeze into small spaces – even call an elevator.
  • But automation is expected to create 97 million new roles for humans in the future world of work, according to the World Economic Forum.

Workplace robots are often associated with pushing human workers out of their jobs.

But in numerous settings around the world, robots and related technology, like artificial intelligence, are helping humans with a range of work. This includes jobs that are high-risk and complex – and work in places where humans can’t go.

Here are seven examples.

Robots like Spot the dog are helping humans in dangerous workplaces like Pompeii.
Robots like Spot are helping humans navigate dangerous workplaces.
Image: Archaeological Park of Pompeii

Pompeii’s robot dog

In the ancient Roman ruins of Pompeii, a robot dog called Spot has been enlisted to carry out safety patrols.

The four-legged robot can inspect “even the smallest of spaces in complete safety,” says the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, which looks after conservation for the site near Naples in Italy.

Spot will also help inspect underground tunnels dug by illegal relic hunters that are being uncovered around Pompeii. The city and around 20,000 people were buried when Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD79. The data Spot records will help his human colleagues manage the safety of the site and its workers.

Robot deliveries

In Zurich, Switzerland, a company called Swiss-Mile has developed a robot on four wheels that can speed up the delivery of goods in cities.

As well as being able to drive itself around, the “humanoid-quadruped transformer” can climb stairs and stand on its two back wheels. This means it can call an elevator, and “in future, grab packages and open doors,” the company says.

Deliveries typically get caught up in traffic as they near their destination. The idea is to let the robot handle these “final mile” delivery challenges in a faster, more energy-efficient way.

Robotics in social care

In Scotland, a big area of focus is the use of robotics and artificial intelligence in social care settings. An assisted living lab that looks like a real home has been created at the National Robotarium, a new centre for robotics and AI.

Scientists there are using robotics, AI and sensor technologies to carry out functions like monitoring long-term health conditions. Technology can also help people with tasks like making phone calls, switching on lights, opening doors and watching TV.

The aim is to help people live more independently, and also to give carers a break. Scotland has 1.1 million unpaid carers, the National Robotarium says, and a fifth of them say they haven’t had a break in more than five years.

Assisted living robots could partner with carers in social care settings.
Assisted living robots could partner with carers in social care settings.
Image: National Robotarium
AI, machine learning, technology

How is the World Economic Forum ensuring that artificial intelligence is developed to benefit all stakeholders?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is impacting all aspects of society — homes, businesses, schools and even public spaces. But as the technology rapidly advances, multistakeholder collaboration is required to optimize accountability, transparency, privacy and impartiality.

The World Economic Forum's Platform for Shaping the Future of Technology Governance: Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning is bringing together diverse perspectives to drive innovation and create trust.

  • One area of work that is well-positioned to take advantage of AI is Human Resources — including hiring, retaining talent, training, benefits and employee satisfaction. The Forum has created a toolkit Human-Centred Artificial Intelligence for Human Resources to promote positive and ethical human-centred use of AI for organizations, workers and society.
  • Children and young people today grow up in an increasingly digital age in which technology pervades every aspect of their lives. From robotic toys and social media to the classroom and home, AI is part of life. By developing AI standards for children, the Forum is working with a range of stakeholders to create actionable guidelines to educate, empower and protect children and youth in the age of AI.
  • The potential dangers of AI could also impact wider society. To mitigate the risks, the Forum is bringing together over 100 companies, governments, civil society organizations and academic institutions in the Global AI Action Alliance to accelerate the adoption of responsible AI in the global public interest.
  • AI is one of the most important technologies for business. To ensure C-suite executives understand its possibilities and risks, the Forum created the Empowering AI Leadership: AI C-Suite Toolkit, which provides practical tools to help them comprehend AI’s impact on their roles and make informed decisions on AI strategy, projects and implementations.
  • Shaping the way AI is integrated into procurement processes in the public sector will help define best practice which can be applied throughout the private sector. The Forum has created a set of recommendations designed to encourage wide adoption, which will evolve with insights from a range of trials.
  • The Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Rwanda worked with the Ministry of Information, Communication Technology and Innovation to promote the adoption of new technologies in the country, driving innovation on data policy and AI – particularly in healthcare.

Contact us for more information on how to get involved.

Soft robots for tight spots

Robots come in all shapes and sizes. At the Chinese University of Hong Kong, scientists are discovering new uses for a robot made from slime, the New Scientist reported.

The robot is described as the consistency of custard. But it has been mixed with magnetic particles that can be moved and controlled using external magnets. Because it’s soft, the slime can squeeze through narrow spaces with a 1.5mm diameter and grasp solid objects by wrapping around them.

In machines, the slime can perform functions like repairing circuits, the researchers say in the journal Advanced Functional Materials. In humans, the slime can potentially “swallow and transport harmful things” – like a dangerous object ingested by mistake.

Search and rescue robots

In disaster zones that are hard to reach and a danger to life, robots provide invaluable support to human search and rescue teams.

These include rugged small vehicles with tracks, cameras and sensors that can search inside rubble and climb over obstacles. Teledyne FLIR, a sensing technology specialist based in Oregon in the United States, used robots like these in June 2021 when a tower block partially collapsed in the Miami suburb of Surfside in Florida.

In Japan, university teams are developing another type of search and rescue robot – a hose-like robot with a video camera called the Active Scope Camera that can search inside collapsed buildings. Drones also help search and rescue teams see disaster sites from above.

Underground robots

Sewers are another setting where robots are helping humans tackle tough jobs.

Fatbergs – big lumps of fat, nappy wipes and other items that have been flushed down drains – are a growing problem. They clog up water pipes and can cause floods.

Sewer Robotics, a company in the Netherlands, specializes in making crawler robots that inspect, clean, cut and maintain underground pipes. Its robots are armed with high-pressure water jets that can break up fatbergs, reported Wired.

Green robots

Green technology needs maintenance and inspection - but imagine the challenge of checking all the bolts on wind turbines?

Thankfully, a new project has developed a six-legged robot to take the job on for us. The robot can autonomously inspect the bolts, taking away the need for humans to loosen and retighten them, reports Marine Technology News.

The project, which brought together multiple partners, could save hundreds of millions of dollars in Europe each year alone, while also extending turbine life spans and reducing the risks faced by human workers.

Automation at work

Alongside specialist robots like these, other types of automation are changing the nature of work.

In its Future of Jobs Report 2020, the World Economic Forum predicts that 97 million new roles may emerge by 2025 as automation accelerates. This is more than the 85 million jobs globally that technology is predicted to displace.

In a blog for the Forum, automation expert Pascal Bornet says intelligent automation will free up workers to take on more creative elements of their work.

“It helps employees to do work faster, better, but also to have more time to focus on what really matters,” he says.