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Last Updated: Monday, 18 October, 2004, 18:01 GMT 19:01 UK
Sales of robots hit record high
Cars on production line
BMW has bought robots for use at its Oxford plant
Robot sales have hit a UK record high with experts predicting changes in the workplace over the next 10 years to parallel the impact of computers.

The Warwick University-based British Automation and Robot Association has revealed 507 machines were sold in the third quarter of 2004.

BARA chairman Dr Ken Young said firms were using robots to fill labour gaps and keep manufacturing in the UK.

And advances to give robots 'eyes' meant they could soon do much more.

The new 'vision systems' would equip robots with a camera, which would then be used to take a picture which can then be analysed by the robot.

The new technology - expected to come into use in three or four years - would have a massive impact, said Dr Young, as they would soon be far more flexible in what they could and could not do.

'People needed'

"In the past robots have only been able to do exactly the same thing, but now they can adapt what they are doing to whatever is in front of them, " he said.

It would have enormous benefits to businesses which are unable to move abroad where labour is cheaper - sectors such as food, pharmaceuticals and building material, car manufacturing.

Of the 507 recently bought, 400 were bought by Derbyshire-based Toyota, and BMW, based in Oxford.

Even so, Dr Young added, this did not spell the end for people in the workplace.

"We are always going to require a number of people to run the factories. People are pretty much indispensable," he said.

Although robots would produce more and more so fewer and fewer people would be needed, people would still be needed to run the machines and so would become more and more important in factories, he added.

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