Breakthrough technologies – robotics and IP

Author:C. Andrew Keisner - Julio Raffo - Sacha Wunsch-Vincent
Position:Consultant - Economics and Statistics Division, WIPO - Economics and Statistics Division, WIPO

Robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) have huge potential to transform many aspects of our lives. Recent trials with humanoid robots in supermarkets, schools, hospitals and retirement homes in Europe, the United States and Japan give a sense of this. Hollywood movies like Ex_Machina and Her have also attracted public attention, raising questions about the potential superiority of robots and... (see full summary)


Robotics, the field of technology that drives the development of robots, has played a role for decades in automotive factories, construction sites, schools, hospitals and private homes. But more recently, newer fields of research, including AI and sensing, have combined with robotics to produce advanced autonomous robots with many more potential applications.

What exactly is a robot?

Generally speaking, a robot has the ability to interpret its environment and adjust its actions to achieve a goal. The first modern-day robots were invented for programmed automation to speed up industrial manufacturing processes. But robots have now become fully autonomous systems that can operate and make “decisions” without human interaction.

By 1970 robotic manufacturing was widespread across the automotive industry in the United States and Japan, and by the late 1980s Japan had become the world leader in the manufacture and use of industrial robots. Since the 1980s, when the use of industrial robots in automotive and other industrial production lines became commonplace in the United States and Japan, robotic mechanical parts have become ever more sophisticated and increasingly autonomous. New materials and cutting-edge breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, mechatronics, navigation, sensing, object recognition and information processing have transformed robotics into a multidisciplinary field. Robots are becoming increasingly data-driven and linked over intelligent networks, such as those being developed for self-driving vehicles and drones.

The impact of robots

Robots are already having a significant impact on manufacturing processes in the automotive and electronics sectors. They are also increasingly being used in agriculture, mining, transport, space and sea exploration, unmanned surveillance, health, education and many other fields.

Robots can increase labor productivity, reduce production costs and improve product quality, and in the service sector have spawned entirely new business models. Robots also contribute to human welfare by eliminating the need to do strenuous or dangerous work, by supporting an ageing population and by making sustainable transport a reality.

The industrial robot market, including the cost of software, peripherals and systems engineering, is set to increase to around USD 33 billion by 2017.

Asia (in particular, China, the Republic of Korea and Japan) is the world leader in global robotic sales, followed by Europe and North America.

The economic gains derived from using robots are directly linked to replacing part of the...

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