Behind and within recent news on automation there lies two emotions: excitement and fear. Not marketing automation; nor inventory or supply-chain automation. With digital automation, it’s all upside. Physical automation is where the divide begins.

Robotics has already reshaped industrial production in verticals like metals, electronics, and automotives, but over the next decade … a full-scale revolution is at hand. At the helm of these changes, towers the Asian-Pacific Region (APAC):

Estimated worldwide annual shipments of industrial robots by thousands of units CopyFull data and sources available within Robotics in Asia and Its Impact on Global eCommerce

Figures like that, especially in non-APAC regions, only serve to intensify the emotional disconnect. So, which is it: excitement or fear, friend or foe?

For small-to-medium eCommerce businesses, overcoming the fears — and knowing how to leverage the bots — both surround an unfamiliar word: “cobotics.”

What Is Cobotics?

Cobotics (or, cobots) is the practice of using robotics to increase human ability rather than replace it. As you might expect, the term comes from fusing of “cooperation” and “robotics,” and is meant to highlight collaboration between a person and a robot. Instead of taking over individual jobs, cobots enhance and coexist with human production.


Image courtesy of Advantage Business Marketing

Difficult, menial-labor intensive, or work to which people do not add cognitive value are transferred to machines. Cobotics levels up human operators by supplementing their effort, allowing them to manage jobs that are too large, too small, or too dangerous for handling.

Most often, operators work in tandem with these machines or oversee them. Humans, therefore, remain a necessary part of workflows but are freed to focus on complex problem solving, rather than the mundane.

Factories of the future — most notably, those that produce high-value consumer and industrial goods — will continue to be staffed by humans. The same will be true of logistical applications. The result, however, is that creativity, innovation, and specialization can shine.

How Can eCommerce Leverage Cobotics?

In eCommerce, cobotics have two natural applications: (1) production and manufacturing; and (2) logistics and fulfillment.

With the first, far from something to fear, cobotics represents an opportunity. Companies creating high-value products today and tomorrow do so by sourcing (or rather, out-sourcing) low-value components and combining them in-house. Success and wealth seldom arise from what makes up a product; instead, they come from intellectual properties and consumer-ready combinations.

As Dave Holmes, manufacturing director for BAE Systems, told The Telegraph in late 2018, “It’s probably the most exciting time to get into manufacturing as we enter the fourth industrial revolution.”

With the second, cobotic fulfillment and futuristic warehouses may feel like science fiction. Few SMEs or SMBs operate at the scale required to build bots. The key is to begin adding cobotics and robotics to your list of selection requirements when evaluating partners.

Third-party logistics, pick-and-pack options, and — to a lesser degree — fulfillment providers should be investing in these technologies. If they’re not … think twice about enlisting their services.

Lastly, cobots are already appearing in consumer-facing situations, like “RoboCollect” within online marketplace Honestbee’s Habitat: a supermarket, restaurant, and retail lab all-in-one: “After depositing a loaded trolley at the AutoCheckout station, items are automatically scanned, checked out and packed into bags using robotic technology.”


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