The potential for deployment is enormous
Even with this progress, the government’s adoption of robots is
considerably behind what we see in the commercial sector. Roughly a
third of federal executives surveyed by Accenture said their
organizations are making use of robots to some degree in controlled
environments, while only 4 percent said they are using them outside
of controlled environments. By comparison, slightly more than half
of global executives surveyed said their organizations are making
use of robots in controlled environments and 9 percent said they are
using them in uncontrolled environments.
These figures seem surprising given the vast number of potential
federal use cases one can imagine. Robots come to mind first for
jobs that are dirty, dull, and dangerous, and federal agencies
certainly work in risky and grimy environments: Consider traditional
lines of work like emergency management, homeland security,
logistics, maintenance, facilities management, law enforcement,
wildfire management, and military operations. Robots also enable a
wide array of physical interactions in remote and hard-to-reach
areas. And more recently, robots have made in-roads into other
fields such as healthcare, therapy, customer service, and more.
So, what does it take to view one’s mission through a lens of
robotics? In a nutshell, it takes focus, imagination, and education.
DARPA, for example, has run numerous robotic challenges to assess
current capabilities as they might apply to DoD missions.
The National Science Foundation (NSF), NASA, the Occupational Safety
and Health Administration (OSHA), and the Department of Agriculture
have teamed up to sponsor the U.S. National Robotics Initiative,
which aims to accelerate development and use of collaborative robots
(known as co-robots) that work beside or cooperatively with people.
And the Homeland Security Department—through its Science and
Technology Directorate—has partnered with the National Institute of
Standards and Technology (NIST) to develop performance standards and
conduct evaluations of robots that could help with various DHS
The matter of trust
As agencies begin deploying robots in service of their varied
missions, they will confront another big consideration: Making sure
those robots are trusted, safe, and secure. How will agencies build
trust for robots among the variety of stakeholders who will
encounter them? How will they design and govern the way robots
interact with people and environments? And how will they address
legal, liability, privacy, and ethical issues that may come up with
These are critical points to get right. Increasing percentages of
consumers that we surveyed believe robots can make their lives
easier (48 percent) and more efficient (41 percent)—yet, a similar
number (39 percent) say they are concerned robots will introduce
more problems than they fix.