In 1962, General Motors leapt into the future by using an industrial robot to do assembly line spot welding. Robots have since become commonplace, used everywhere from factories to hospital operating rooms. But new advances are driving “botsourcing” — using robots for increasingly complex tasks.
Lowe’s is field-testing the OSHbot, a “shopping assistant” that scoots up to customers, asks if they need help, and guides them to the right spot in the store. Amazon.com now has more than 10,000 self-driving robotic carts that fetch items inside 10 of its distribution centers. And IPsoft, a New York City company, offers Amelia, a robotic virtual service-desk employee that can reply to emails, answer phone calls, and even hold conversations with customers. Amelia also uses artificial intelligence to “learn” on the job and can answer up to 60,000 calls per day. Perhaps not surprisingly, IPsoft’s growing customer lineup includes Cisco, Comcast and American Standard, among others.