Robotics & Automation News

Market trends and business perspectives

Robotics: The Bay Area and beyond

san francisco golden gate bridge

By Thomas R. Cutler

While Silicon Valley is renowned for software and design prowess. The Bay Area’s four largest cities – San Francisco, San Jose, Fremont and Oakland – are teaming up to foster today’s manufacturing revival and create more entry-level and middle-class jobs.

Together, these Bay Area cities boast a robust manufacturing sector, sustaining nearly 108,500 jobs across 3,200 manufacturing companies – outpacing both the U.S. and California – and driving more than $55 billion into California’s economy.

In collaboration with nonprofit SFMade, these cities surveyed local manufacturing companies to find out what is most important for the industry; they created the first-ever Bay Area State of Urban Manufacturing Report. 

Participating urban manufacturers were surveyed on topics including workforce, business practices, supply chain connections and real estate challenges. Top findings include:

  • In 2015, manufacturing jobs grew or held steady in all four cities. Fremont and San Francisco had the highest annual full-time job growth rates at 17 per cent and 10per cent respectively for survey respondents.
  • The fastest-growing sector of job expansion was electronics, with more than 20% in full-time and part-time jobs.
  • 40-50 per cent of manufacturing jobs are production jobs, typically the first access point for workers without a 4-year degree or with other employment barriers.
  • Companies across all four cities reported sustaining an average of 35-45 per cent of their workforce in middle-wage jobs.
  • One of the most critical challenges is that industrial vacancies are nearly zero for Class A space across all jurisdictions.

A new US Robotics Roadmap released recently calls for better policy frameworks to safely integrate new technologies, such as self-driving cars and commercial drones, into everyday life.

The document also advocates for increased research efforts in the field of human-robot interaction to develop intelligent machines that will empower people to stay in their homes as they age. It calls for increased education efforts in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields from elementary school to adult learners.

The roadmap’s authors, more than 150 researchers from around the nation, also call for research to create more flexible robotics systems to accommodate the need for increased customization in manufacturing, for everything from cars to consumer electronics

The goal of the US Robotics Roadmap is to determine how researchers can make a difference and solve societal problems in the United States. The document provides an overview of robotics in a wide range of areas, from manufacturing to consumer services, healthcare, autonomous vehicles and defense.

The roadmap’s authors make recommendation to ensure that the United States will continue to lead in the field of robotics, both in terms of research innovation, technology, and policies.

Unmanned vehicles and policy

The advances in the field of self-driving cars have far outpaced the predictions researchers made in the 2013 edition of the roadmap. But autonomous vehicles still have several obstacles to overcome, the researchers said.

Self-driving cars need to become more like industrial robots, which can run autonomously for three years without human intervention, he added. Also, the many methods and technologies used in the field of self-driving vehicles need to be resolved into a single standard.

Finally, local, state and federal agencies need to formulate policies and regulations that ensure these cars can share the road safely with vehicles driven by people. Regulations and policies also need to be put in place for unmanned aerial vehicles, better known as drones or UAVs.

When this is done, UAVs could revolutionize the way we ship goods by air, monitor the environment – and much more. They could help first responders during natural disasters and terrorist attacks.


In recent years, the need to customize products such as cars has increased dramatically. For example, a high-end vehicle can feature millions of different options, from the color of its seats to the configuration of its electronics.

As a result, manufacturers have turned to increasingly sophisticated technology to drive assembly lines. This in turn has brought many factories back to the United States. In the past six years, the US manufacturing sector has added 900,000 jobs.

Industrial Internet of Things 

For all applications, the core challenge is flexible integration of robotic systems with human operators and collaborators. Researchers envision an environment where physical systems are linked wirelessly via smart sensors and smart chips, within an Industrial Internet of Things.

This will make it easier for robots to navigate their environment and work with people. At the same time, it is important to design these systems to be secure so that they cannot be hijacked or used in cyber-attacks.

The 2016 US Robotics Roadmap is partially sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the University of California San Diego, Oregon State University and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Thomas R. Cutler is the President & CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based, TR Cutler, Inc., ( Cutler is the founder of the Manufacturing Media Consortium including more than 6000 journalists, editors, and economists writing about trends in manufacturing, industry, material handling, and process improvement. Cutler authors more than 500 feature articles annually regarding the manufacturing sector and is the most published freelance industrial journalist worldwide. Cutler can be contacted at and can be followed on Twitter @ThomasRCutler.