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Looking back at our 2021 predictions: How’d we do?

By Team InOrbit

As the days of 2021 come to a close, we quickly anticipate the new year and all of our exciting new projects atInOrbit. But before we flip the calendar, let’s take a look at the trends we predicted back in January to see how we did. Was our crystal ball clear or cloudy?

#1: Continued growth of robot deploymentsBerkshire Grey

Our first prediction was that robot projects that began in 2020 would mature this year, and for the most part this prediction held. We saw lots of new deployments, mainly in the warehousing, supply chain and third-party logistics space. Full-scale automation or deployments of autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) were announced by several retailers, looking to both address continuing e-commerce demand, or attempting to address issues caused by the supply chain disruption.

While COVID-19 continues to remain a concern as new variants emerge and regional flare-ups occur, the supply chain will continue to face problems in 2021 that automation and robotics can help address. Whether these new deployments can scale efficiently will depend greatly on enterprises’ ability to manage their robot fleets.

#2: New markets, ideas

In January, we suggested that new problems caused by COVID-19 would spur new opportunities and challenges for roboticists. In some cases we saw new applications of robotics, such as a robotic cell that could test potential COVID-19 samples, but for the most part, we instead saw an expansion of existing cleaning and disinfection robots that either autonomously clean floors or utilize ultraviolet light to disinfect rooms for schools, hospitals, and other public areas.

Perhaps we overestimated the time it takes for new ideas to become actual robots, and we will see some additional new robot types launch in 2022.

#3: Multi-robot, multi-vendor fleets emerge

For the most part, this year saw announcements for single-robot deployments, but we’re going to still take credit here for this one because we predicted the birth of efforts to encourage the adoption of multi-robot interoperability and connectivity. Both the MassRobotics AMR Standard and VDA5050 groups made substantial progress on getting robots to work together. InOrbit incidentally announced support for both of these standards. This is a fantastic sign for the future of interoperability. We also heard about several projects where one robot type (a robot arm, for example) can now work with a second robot type (an AMR). We expect this trend to continue in 2022.

#4: 5G and edge networks haven’t moved the needle

We said we would be “watching” the adoption of 5G and edge networking, so it wasn’t a very bold prediction earlier in the year. We were right to hedge the prediction, as most of the year saw a mixed response to the faster networks.

We still believe that continued concern in the industrial space around security and higher costs of 5G networking are preventing many companies from making the technological leap. While slower rollouts, availability and real speeds vs. marketing hype are several of the reasons for the noted lack of enthusiasm for 5G. It may be another few years before companies realize the potential of this technology.

#5: The growth of AgTech Robotics

Iron Ox's Grover

We saw many companies emerge in this space with additional investments, as companies realize the benefits of automation in the agricultural space. Big news from companies such as Monarch Tractor, Iron Ox Technologies and others spurred the agricultural and automation revolution, which we continue to expect in 2022. If you are interested in learning more about the companies developing agricultural robotics, check out our whitepaper that explores the sector.


More predictions are coming...

While we missed on a few of our predictions for 2021, we also got a number of them right, so we’re satisfied that our crystal ball is still in working order. We’ll be grabbing it out of storage and dusting it off to get ready for next year shortly. 

Check back soon to see what big trends we’ll be watching in 2022.

Photo credits: Berkshire Grey and Iron Ox