Have you noticed any of these phenomena recently? Hotel check-in times are getting later and later, restaurants are staying closed for longer and longer, and logistics issues are causing shipment delays… All of these issues reflect an increasingly serious global phenomenon: a shortage of labor.

In Japan and Taiwan, many hotels have been forced to extend check-in times due to being short-staffed; in the United States, the logistics company UPS has offered annual salaries as high as US$170,000 (NT$5.44 million) to make up for their lack of drivers.

In order to alleviate labor shortages, many countries have relaxed visa requirements to attract talent from overseas. Some governments have gone so far as to amend laws to extend the retirement age, bridging the labor gap with older workers. In Japan, for example, up to 40 percent of companies employ individuals over the age of 70, twice as many as a decade ago.

As more countries are forced to confront an aging society and a declining working-age population, the labor shortage will become an even more critical problem. According to a report by the consulting firm Korn Ferry, the world will face a talent shortage of more than 85 million people by 2030, which is equivalent to the total population of Germany and will result in an annual loss of US$8.5 trillion in global output.

From retail and dining to logistics, robots are becoming increasingly “omnipresent.”

The labor shortage is a global crisis facing the present generation, but it also represents a huge business opportunity. There are currently several major tech companies and start-ups betting on “robots” as a possible solution.

In addition to the manufacturing and warehouse logistics sectors, where automation has already been widely adopted, I’ve recently encountered intriguing cases in a range of industries. For example, in an attempt to address labor shortages in the hotel industry, dry cleaning robotics start-up Presso has automated the dry cleaning process, shortening the time it takes to clean and press clothes to a mere five minutes. Meanwhile, the beverage automation start-up Sidework has developed a machine capable of making 300 cups of various drinks within one hour.

Retail is another industry severely affected by labor shortages. To address this pain point, retail automation start-up Simbe Robotics has developed a robot named Tally, which can autonomously patrol store shelves and obtain product information. If a product is out of stock, placed in the wrong location, or displays an incorrect sale price, Tally will immediately notify store personnel, reducing associated losses. At present, more than 12 retailers in Europe, the United States, and the Middle East, including Carrefour and American supermarket chains Schnuck Markets, SpartanNash, and BJ’s Wholesale Club, have all begun to use Tally.

Start-ups and tech giants alike are actively investing in the field of robotics. For example, e-commerce leader Amazon has introduced humanoid robots in its warehouses, and the South Korean telecom giant SK Telecom is testing an AI-powered patrol robot service designed to identify abnormalities within an environment, with trials already underway at local universities. In a bid to master robotics technology, everyone from Tesla to Xiaomi is actively developing their own humanoid robots.

How large is the business potential of robotics? According to a Goldman Sachs report, the humanoid robot market is expected to reach US$6 billion or more in the next 10 to 15 years.

What changes will the influx of robots bring?

The day when robots will collaborate with humans, or even outnumber humans, may be closer than many people imagine. In November of this year, China announced plans to begin mass-producing humanoid robots as early as 2025.

Several recent technological breakthroughs have made robots more “usable,” such as AI technology that acts as a robot’s “brain.” Such advances allow robots to perform increasingly complex tasks and accelerate the possibility of their widespread adoption.

In order to explore how robots and humans can collaborate more effectively, South Korean technology company Naver has designed the world’s first “robot-friendly” office building. Here, nearly a hundred wheeled robots provide services such as delivering packages, lunch, and coffee to around 5,000 human colleagues. Adopting a barrier-free design concept, the office building also features a custom-built elevator and minimizes the presence of steep slopes and stairs, ensuring that the robots can move about freely.

Although no one knows exactly when the golden age of robotics will begin, we can be certain that before that time comes, offices, shopping malls, and even entire cities will need to be redesigned. Everything from workflow processes to space design will need to be reimagined to address the needs of these new “robotic residents.” For the time being, these problems cannot be outsourced to robots; finding solutions will require our own thoughtful ingenuity!

Matt Cheng is Founder and General Partner of Cherubic Ventures. Matt is a Taiwanese venture investor, serial entrepreneur, company advisor, and former junior tennis player. Prior to founding Cherubic, Matt co-founded Tian-Ge in China and 91APP in Taiwan, both went public at over $1B+ in market cap. Matt is also a company advisor to Wish and Atomic VC, as well as an early investor in Flexport, Calm, and Hims & Hers.

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