It takes a reputable human being to admit when they’re wrong, and I humbly admit I missed the mark on my automation outlook — the era of affordable, accessible, and acceptable automation dawned much faster than I anticipated. Let me break that down. Technology price changes over time are fascinating. The Sony Betamax debuted in 1975 with a retail price of $2,295. Now movies are digitally ordered on demand. Remember when a 42” LCD TV cost $3,000? Today the cost of a 4K TV and a cup of specialty coffee are converging.  The point of my history lesson is to remind myself that robot and cobot tech are following a similar curve. In the pre-pandemic era, the cost for a light payload robot or cobot started at around $20,000 - $30,000, and prices quickly moved into the low six figures. These are great products from automation leaders, and there are lots of reasons to invest in them. However, for the job shop or smaller OEM putting a toe in the water, trying to justify such a capital expenditure proved a significant barrier, especially if the bean counters were involved.  Today, you can acquire a robotic arm for less than $10,000. For example, yours truly recently had the opportunity to become acquainted with UFACTORY, which offers a multi-axis cobot arm starting at just over $5,000. Industrial robots from companies like fruitcore robotics offer a step up in speed and accuracy yet start at about $12,000. If you want to test the waters using a mobile platform for machine tending, bin picking, or robotic research, I can confidently report units in this category will encourage you to jump on in. If you want to cut the number crunchers out of the equation and move your automation budget from capital expenses to operating expenses, consider companies such as Rapid Robotics…or should I say, rapid machine operator? Rapid Robotics offers a ‘hired’ by subscription (lease) model with no need for integration. Its robots take less than a day to deploy…all for rates as low as $4 a day. I encourage everyone to check out the use cases on their website for automating simple tasks. I’ll further expand on accessibility and acceptability in the next column, starting with a cobot so accessible that you can program it with a free smartphone app. 
Historic barriers to automation include affordability (cost), accessibility (steep learning curve), and acceptability (human displacement). It’s time to throw those old-fashioned notions in the scrap bin.