Not too long ago, we explored some of the ways in which robotics are used across the automotive industry. Machines handle tasks like painting and welding not only for quality purposes, but also for the safety of employees. And while many people fear that more capable robots means higher unemployment for a human workforce, the past few decades have shown us that there is still plenty of work to go around. So, let’s continue the conversation with some of the more “nontraditional” uses of auto industry robotics.
Think that robotics and cars only cross paths when it comes to manufacturing? Think again, bub. Dealership service and parts operations are set to revolutionize, with everything from oil changes to tire mountings and rotations eventually being handled by machines. High startup costs are holding back the initial leap, but with an estimated 30-50% of all dealership activities being within mechanical capability, the gradual changing of the guard seems inevitable, if not quite immediate.
Car Vending Machines?
There is a simple joy to plunking a few quarters into a vending machine, pressing a couple buttons, and watching your candy bar fall to the ground. Well, guess what? A dealership in Georgia is now bringing that very same sensation to the purchase of a new ride. (Minus the falling part, of course.)
Carvana, the online auto sales behemoth, has recently paired with a car-pickup dealership in Atlanta, to completely change the vehicle-buying experience through the use of savvy technology. “The experience itself is exactly a vending machine experience,” says Carvana CEO Ernie Garcia.
Buyers are given an oversized coin, which they drop into a slot. The coin triggers a giant robotic arm, which then goes off to pluck each chosen ride from a five-story building full of options. Other robots drive the new cars down a hallway, and park them in bays where the new owners then pick them up.
Necessary? Certainly not. Awesome? Helllll Yeah.
Behind the Scenes
Sure, there’s an assembly line, a dealership, and a driver for every car. But that’s not the whole story. Countless other jobs are essential to keeping the automotive industry afloat. And a great many of these thankless tasks are handled by (or with the assistance of) robots, and have been for some time. Packaging, labeling, palletizeing, testing, and product inspection are all made a little bit easier with some technological assistance.
A Safer Future for Trucking
Autonomous cars are on the roads and all over the headlines. But what about those big rigs that terrify you on your highway commute every morning? An answer may already be upon us.
Trucks carry 70% of the freight transported in the United States. It’s a big field. Drivers are overworked and often don’t get enough rest. One new solution is a robotic retrofit, known as Otto. Otto can turn any semi built since 2013 into an autonomous vehicle. From some of the brilliant minds behind Google Maps and Streetview, this transformation will allow trucks to stay on a highway, within a lane, maintain the correct speed, and make necessary adjustments. For a mere $30,000, the future of trucking is nearly here. Which of course, leads us to the biggest one on our list…
This is it. This is the reason for all the hullabaloo. Cars that drive themselves. The pinnacle of auto industry robotics, right?
Is America ready?
Companies like Waymo seem to think so. “It’s gonna go around the world,” says Waymo CEO John Krafcik, “and it’s gonna start here.”
About 100 people in the US die in automobiles every day. The minds behind autonomous cars want to virtually eliminate that figure. And while they’re at it, take a bite out of other pesky problems too. Parking hassles, city gridlock, pollution, and overuse of fossil fuels are targeted areas of improvement that may come with the dominion of the self-driving car. With trial runs already deeply underway in cities like Phoenix, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Toronto, the future of travel isn’t on its way. The future is now.