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Tuesday, October 13, 1998 Published at 23:20 GMT 00:20 UK


The rise of the robots

Leonardo da Vinci's robot design - 500 years on they could take over

Claire Doole reports from Geneva: The robots are coming
The annual World Robotics report predicts a world under the control of even more robots than are around today.

Published on Wednesday by the United Nations Economic Commission, the report says there are 720,000 robots worldwide doing the work of up to two million people.

But the report's authors say the robots are not taking our jobs, but doing the dirty and repetitive work humans don't want to do.

Robots march ahead in US, Europe

[ image: Robot arms - the prosthetics of the future]
Robot arms - the prosthetics of the future
1997 was a good year for robots, with a record number installed worldwide - mainly by firms in the United States and the major Western European countries.

Some 85,000 new machines were charged with the task of welding, painting and feeding components into a variety of machines.

Japan still has the most robots per employee - 277 for every 10,000 people working in manufacturing.

But its drive towards automation is slowing, due to the Asian economic crisis.

The report predicts a global trend is towards dedicated robots that serve - a future in which robots regularly carry medicines around hospitals, perform simple surgery and even deliver patients meals.

And the findings show a need for intensive tuition in people interaction skills - suggesting that the days of surly porters and inattentive nurses are numbered.

For the elderly and disabled, robots are seen as important future carers, providing round the clock assistance with eating, washing, and even, the report says, scratching that itch.

But the robot which does all those irritating household tasks, such as cleaning the bathroom, has not yet taken off.

At an average price of just under $100,000, demand has not yet outstripped supply.

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