COVID-19 sees sales and interest in automation, robots and AI growing fast

Many businesses are struggling to survive during the global lockdown and predict a slow road to recovery. But for robotics and AI firms, the need for their services is creating dramatic growth and new interest, suggesting strong sales into the future.

While the latest crisis to strike the world creates chaos, political opportunism and the sad toll of growing personal loss and struggling businesses, bots are helping both physically and online to bring people together and keep companies working.

One of the obvious examples are automatons in hospitals. Cleaning robots for hospitals aren’t new, but demand has spiked during the Coronavirus lockdown, and sales are strong for companies like U.S. firm Xenex which has seen a rise in “hundreds” of orders for its $125,000 disinfecting robots. The drones help take some of the stress from human cleaning staff and reduce the risk of cross-infection when it comes to disinfecting Covid and other wards.

Expect armies of these drones to be an increasingly familiar sight in hospitals and other sensitive areas into the future. Robots are also turning up to help reduce human interactions, both as guide bots that will show people to the appointment or office they are supposed to attend. Or, in the form of chatbots or digital concierges to welcome people to hotels, apartments and offices to speed up check-ins and arrivals.

Chatbots have been a hot topic for investment and business adoption in recent years, and that’s showing further signs of acceleration with Yellow Messenger, an Indian AI bot startup, having just snagged $20 million in second-round funding. As bots become a wider part of office platforms and worker engagement, bot firms are also looking to expand their offerings.

Take Israeli firm SnatchBot that recently rolled out Snatch App, a secure, yet still free, messaging, video conferencing and collaboration tool. It uses strong security from its bot experience to overcome some of the lapses seen in popular messaging apps like Zoom which was easy to hack or break into ongoing conversations.

While many businesses need apps urgently to keep their teams working and processes flowing, grabbing one just because it hits the headlines does not make good sense. Even a cursory look at the many messaging apps on the market shows more secure tools or those with better features to enable collaboration like file sharing and ways to automatically wipe sensitive conversations or chats make them more practical for startups or enterprise use.

Getting back to business with bots

Automation has been growing fast across all types of business for decades, automating whole factories, with drones delivering parts around sites, and AI tools measuring raw material usage and checking quality, helping change orders on the fly.

But smaller robots are now appearing in offices without the need for big security cages, they can help in many areas from making pizzas to replicating and combining parts or performing repetitive tasks. Robotic process automation does the same thing with data or paper, and many companies will need RPA or similar tools to help them with the backlog building up during this crisis.

Helping with both internal and external communications, many companies already use chatbots and AI to help in their analytics, and once they start coming out of lockdown, they will investigate them for further uses to help any type of business work smarter.

Many more will have launched a simple chatbot to help with customer support or provide up-to-date guidance during Covid-19. They can use the experiences gained during lockdown to build bots that fit across their business processes and work with collaboration or AI tools that help improve decision making.

As part of cost-reduction or efficiency improvement efforts, robots and AI bots are staking a bigger claim and grabbing more attention across the in-boxes of entrepreneurs, business leaders and IT planners. Lessons will be learned from this lockdown and applied to immediate business continuity and restoration efforts.

They will also be filtered into longer-term business plans, helping to address the need for savings and smarter operations, as all companies across every market sector look to gain a competitive advantage over the rest of the decade. And to be prepared just in case anything like this ever happens again and workforces are required to scatter or continue operations in the more-automated future that we all face.