Robotics and personal services today

Robotic technologies can be applied in two ways in personal services: firstly, to reduce labour costs by assisting or replacing human workers, and secondly, to increase product or services sales by using social robots to interact with and influence customers. Both options will be controversial in discussions about robotics and automation in the sector. While personal services robots can assist human workers, relieving them of mundane tasks and allowing them to concentrate on more creative or complex tasks, there is also a high risk that some workers will be replaced by robots. One of the main drivers for companies to adopt robotics is to reduce headcount and decrease labour costs [PwC17]. While the use of customer-facing social robots in personal services is limited in Australia, it will be similarly controversial in the future. Australians have not yet been exposed to social robots designed to manipulate or ‘nudge’ their responses. The introduction of these technologies may fundamentally shift the relationship the Australian public has with, and the feelings they experience towards, robots.

In economic and labour terms, industrial cleaning represents one of the most dynamic areas where robots (as opposed to home robotic vacuum cleaners) can be applied. In Europe, more than 176,900 cleaning contractors employ 3.32 million employees generating a turnover of $AU66 billion. The sector’s steady and sustainable growth (over 9 per cent annually), can be explained mainly by the evolution of the market penetration of cleaning companies and the continuous outsourcing of services. The adoption of robotics is driven by labour costs, which comprise 70 to 80 per cent of costs, with floor cleaning representing 60 per cent of the cleaning task. Cleaning robots eliminate certain types of cleaning work, which frees employees to do more skilled tasks. Potential labour cost savings can vary from 20 to 50 per cent. For this reason, there is high potential for an increase in the use of personal service robots such as floor-cleaning robots [IFRSR17].

In 2016, the total number of service robots for personal and domestic use increased by 24 per cent to approximately 6.7 million units. Worldwide value was up by 15 per cent to $US2.6 billion. Service robots for personal and domestic use are recorded separately, as their unit value is generally only a fraction of the many types of service robots for professional use. So far, service robots for personal and domestic use are mainly used in the areas of domestic (household) robots, which include vacuum and floor cleaning, lawn-mowing robots, and entertainment and leisure robots [IFRSR17].