The use of the word “robot” quickly makes us imagine those Hollywood characters in movies like star wars and all. Indianised version, if I may talk about, is our very own Thalaiva in his role as “chitti” the robot. But in reality, robots are less of the drama and more of mechanical devices programmed to perform specific repetitive functions. They have become a part of our life in a way that helps in easing our work. In the medical field, they have become an inseparable part. Today, robotic help is widely used and dependent upon all across the world.

Now, robots have entered the market in the segment of “daily life use”, that is, robots that can be used for general purposes. COVID-19 pandemic gave birth to an opportunity for expanding the use of Robots in more diverse areas. These days an Indian origin robot, named Mitra, is making headlines by helping COVID-19 patients in making video calls to their families using its camera and a video screen that is attached to its torso. Mitra’s feature that it can move on its own from one patient to another is a benefit, as there is less engagement of people to operate. 

Another robot that is doing wonders in this time of crisis is from Milagrow, a Gurgaon-based firm. This robot is responsible for cleaning and disinfecting hospitals. These robots have come as a blessing to all our healthcare professionals, our Covid Warriors, by reducing their exposure to COVID-positive patients and also by reducing their workload. It is reported that both patients and healthcare professionals have formed a bond with the machines. Patients who have seen these robots performing their duty are so amused by them that they don’t leave the hospital without taking a selfie.

The presence of these robots has raised questions on whether they will in the future replace humans? Well, replacing humans or not will totally depend upon the manner that we plan to use them. One approach that can be considered is to encourage the use of robots that assist humans in making our jobs more productive, rather than making robots that can possibly replace humans. A study in 2016 indicated that robots could take up to 2/3rd of jobs in developing countries, but with that, they also will open new opportunities. The UN Conference on Trade and development has also considered the possibility of robots replacing humans. Another fact that should be considered is robots can reduce the labor costs in manufacturing sectors to such an extent that companies might not outsource the work to others then.

However, there are sectors wherein the replacement of humans will bring a good change in society.  One such sector is manual searching. Indian minds have been doing wonders in this field as well, a group from IIT Madras has developed a Sepoy Septic Tank Robot, which uses high-velocity cutters to cut through the dirt in septic tanks and then uses a vacuum pump to suck it out. The price of making this Indian robot is far less than the similar imported robot. In another example of making robots a reliable helping hand, in Bandicoot, a few years back, a hunting robot, was assigned to clean the sewers in Thiruvananthapuram. Cleaning sewers is a place wherein we can use a hundred percent switch from humans to robots as in a study conducted by the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis, it was reported that one life is lost in about every five days while cleaning sewers and septic tanks across the country. 

We are not away from the day where we will be deploying the military which will have robots. Though in today’s time, technology and robots are somewhere part of our defense. Some time back, the head of Russia’s Advanced Research Foundation hinted that humans in the military will be gradually replaced by robots who can act faster, more accurately, and more selectively in comparison with humans. Let’s see how it goes, whether we become the master of technology or technology become ours.