Here are 10 futuristic uses of automation that — surprise! — are already here.
1. Robots in the kitchen
If you ever take in a game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, check out the tater tots and chicken tenders made by "Flippy."
Flippy is a robotic arm that was originally used to flip hamburgers at a Pasadena burger joint called CaliBurger. During its trial run at the Dodgers' ballpark last season, the device was able to produce up to 80 baskets of fried foods per hour.
Need some help with your own food prep? A company called Moley Robotics has designed a robotic kitchen that does all the cooking for you by downloading and reproducing even complex gourmet recipes.
2. Robots to the rescue
Rescue missions are often hindered by rough terrain — but not for much longer. Since traditional robots with wheels have limited mobility in disaster areas, a new breed of rescue-bots is now being designed specifically for rough topography.
MIT developed a mechanical cheetah that can navigate rugged terrain at almost 30 mph. It also can jump, spin, climb stairs and walk on three legs.
Meanwhile, Stanford researchers have been hard at work on an inflatable robotic snake designed to grow and squeeze through tight gaps that are impossible for human rescuers to get through.
3. Robots handle Rx
In the near future, you may get your prescriptions filled by a robot.
Human pharmacists are traditionally tasked with counting out and packaging pills, and mistakes happen. But the University of California San Francisco Medical Center found that using a robot called PillPick cut the prescription error rate from around 3% to nearly zero.
Robots also are also being used in hospitals to prep IVs and carry food, fresh linens and other items to patients.
4. 'Sewbots' are a stitch
While couture and handmade designer garments can't be produced by robots, machines are starting to take on simpler jobs in apparel-making, such as embroidery and the manufacturing of T-shirts.
Among the pioneering "sewbots" being tested, one named Lowry has shown itself capable of turning out 17 times more T-shirts per hour than a human worker.
Researchers hope robots like Lowry can one day become regular factory fixtures, and lead to declines in sweatshops and offshoring.
5. Investing goes automated
Thanks to technology, you don’t need to be rich to make wise investments in the stock market. Automation is making investing easier and more accessible than ever.
Available through smartphone apps, "robo-advisors" offer a wide range of services backed by smart algorithms that build and manage your portfolio and reinvest your dividends — for a fraction of the cost of traditional financial advisers.
With an automated investing service like Wealthsimple, you choose your investing goals, how much you’d like to invest and how much risk you’re willing to take on. The system does all the work and even makes automatic adjustments to your portfolio as needed.
6. Robot room service
The hotel industry is full of routine, not-so-fun jobs that are perfect for robots, such as carrying luggage and delivering room service to guests.
Bots have been added to the staff at a few hotels around the world, but none have gone to the same extremes as the Henn-na Hotel in Nagasaki, Japan. Robotic dinosaurs checked guests in, and other androids carried bags and provided concierge recommendations.
But the hotel decided to unplug many of its automatons early in 2019 because they demonstrated the limits of the technology. They didn't perform their jobs very well, The Wall Street Journal reported.
7. Robots that really deliver
In irresponsible hands, aerial drones can be a nuisance — or worse. But through lawful uses, drones are slowly changing our world.
Companies including Amazon and UPS have begun experimenting with ways to make drone delivery a reality, which could lower carbon monoxide emissions from traditional delivery trucks.
The medical industry has pioneered the use of drones to handle remote shipments of much-needed blood for transfusions. Australia is even using drones to patrol beaches looking for sharks.
8. Bots are caring for the elderly
Robots are helping meet the health care demands of an aging population.
A robot in Singapore is used as a personal trainer to help keep older people in shape. The "robocoach" takes seniors through a series of exercises and can detect whether the routine is being done correctly.
Another elder care robot is the Paro seal, an adorable and responsive plush toy robot designed to bring the benefits of animal therapy to people with dementia. In Europe, a large, humanized robot named Mario provides companionship for dementia patients.
9. A robot conducts funerals
He may not be able to offer heartfelt condolences, but a robot named Pepper has been taught to bang a drum and deliver Buddhist sutras during traditional funeral services in Japan.
The bot also can also livestream a funeral, so loved ones who can't be there in person can be there in spirit.
Pepper's skills on behalf of the dearly beloved are still in the development stage, but some funeral homes are hoping the use of robotic officiants could ultimately help cut down service costs for low-income families.
10. Robots at the controls?
Experts say automated cars will be taking over our roads any day now — but what about the skies?
Most commercial airplanes already fly on autopilot for several hours, and some advanced planes are programmed with the ability to land themselves if needed. Fully automated pilotless airplanes are already in the works.
Pilotless planes would have clear benefits for the military, as they have the potential to significantly reduce the loss of human life in combat and rescue operations.