The list of top stories in robotics for 2014 is a story of “MORE”: MORE uses of and for robots; MORE serious discussions about robots; MORE robots in unusual places; MORE news in the financial press; MORE funding, acquisitions and IPOs; and MORE choices.
2014 was the year when spectacular online sales drove companies like Amazon, Alibaba, FedEx, DHL and UPS to new records: Amazon hired 80,000 temporary workers for its Christmas season; Alibaba created a new holiday, Singles Day, and had its biggest sales day ever during which it sold, amongst other things, 70,000 robotic vacuum cleaners; Amazon used 15,000 orange Kiva robots to bring shelves of goods from their warehouse to their pickers and packers at new US distribution centers. 2014 was the year robotic vacuum cleaners hit the mainstream consumer products marketplace.
2014 was a year full of editorials and position papers about the need to build ethics into future robots and AI; about humanitarian uses for drones; about income disparity, hi-tech jobs and job losses; and included Bloomberg Businessweek Magazine saying that there will be job loss and that we should get over it. Most of the job loss articles were fear-mongering attention grabbers but a few were truly newsworthy and thought-provoking, from the NY Times and the MIT Technology Review in particular.
2014 found robots in unusual places: on Royal Caribbean cruise ships as bartenders and entertainers; in Lowes hardware stores as guides; in Aloft hotels as deliverers and gofors; at concerts and shows as illusionists; and as guides and sales agents in airports, museums, telephone and coffee stores. Robots began to supplement the already automated agriculture industry.
2014 was also a year when robots, robotics and AI were talked about in the financial press: a 34-page special in The Economist; Google investing in and acquiring AI companies; Google leaking its drone program and acquiring Titan; IPOs, partnerships and some failures, plus an IndieGoGo crowdfunding phenomena (JIBO).