How the United States Can Stay Competitive in the Global Robotics Industry


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Top left to bottom right: Joel Reed, Tom Ryden, Andra Keay, Jeff Burnstein, Matt Johnson-Roberson and Ritch Ramey joined Congressman Mike Doyle for a panel discussion on robotics. | Source: Carnegie Mellon University

Carnegie Mellon University hosted a Virtual Robotics Caucus Roundtable last week with leaders of the American robotics industry. The roundtable discussed the future of the industry and how the United States can keep pace with the global industry.

The following speakers took part in the roundtable:

The group of US robotics cluster leaders discussed the growth of the clusters since their inception and their vision for the future of the national robotics alliance.

“I think we’re at an inflection point in robotics where we’re seeing a lot of the robotics technology that’s being developed, or has been developed over the past 20 years, now translating and having life-changing impacts. people’s daily lives,” Johnson-Roberson said during the roundtable. “I think the narrative around robotics is starting to change. I think people now understand that robotics is not separate from human beings, but that she really needs to interact with human beings on a regular basis.

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Although the United States has been a leader in robotics, everyone in the discussion agreed that to remain competitive, the United States needs to invest more in its robotics industry. The panel called for more support from federal and state governments, including tax incentives and educational programs for children to start learning robotics at a younger age.

“We have achieved global thought leadership and global leadership in innovating and commercializing new robotic technologies, and yet we risk falling behind if we don’t support what is still relatively new,” Keay said. “Most robotics companies didn’t exist five to ten years ago, it’s a relatively new and fragile industry.”

Burnstein noted that, in particular, China, Japan and Korea have made great strides in robotics. Reed named Denmark’s Robotics Cluster, home to leading robotics companies such as Mobile Industrial Robots and Universal Robots, as one of the world’s leading clusters.

“Now it’s very competitive globally. Other governments invest more heavily than the United States. China, in particular, has become a leader in robotics. Japan has been a leader for decades and continues to invest heavily,” Burnstein said. “Other countries like Korea are doing the same thing. In the United States, we need to match the passion for robotics that these countries are showing domestically – we certainly have it.

In December 2021, China unveiled its latest five-year plan for robotics. The document sets out several goals for China’s robotics industry to achieve before 2025, with an overarching goal of making China a key source of global innovation.

China has rapidly increased the number of robots in the country. According to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), from 2015 to 2020, China increased the number of robots per 10,000 workers in an industry from 49 units to 187.

China and Denmark are tied for the ninth most automated countries, while the United States ranks seventh, with 255 units. South Korea, Singapore and Japan topped the list.

Push for faster deployments in the United States

Burnstein noted that while there are endless possibilities for robots to improve our lives, there are still many challenges for the industry in the future, including concerns about robots taking away jobs. Burnstein noted that whenever robot sales go up, unemployment goes down, and vice versa, which Keay later picked up.

“I would say robots don’t take work, robots do tasks. No robot is capable of the sophistication of the least educated person,” Keay said. “We are able to do things like open doors and climb stairs without writing it on our resume, and yet this is a rare robot capable of doing either of those two tasks.”

Another limitation the panel saw for the industry was putting robots in the hands of small and medium-sized businesses. Keay pointed out that while large companies have the funds to invest in expensive technology, smaller operations don’t and could be left behind as automation becomes more common.

A strong supply chain is also needed to expand robotics adoption, according to Reed. Despite the fact that in a global economy, it seems location matters less, Reed said concentrating assets in the United States not only allows us to have a more stable supply chain, but also allows us to better utilize skilled labor in this country.


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