To grasp how robotics is transforming warfare alone, consider that roughly 7,500 unmanned aircraft were operating among U.S. forces in 2012, compared with only a handful a decade ago. Sometimes referred to as drones, the market for unmanned aircraft was forecast to grow into an $89 billion global industry in the next 10 years, according to the Teal Group, an aerospace and defense consultancy.
"The small, unmanned ground vehicle has become the infantryman's Swiss army knife—something you don't want to be without," said Joe Dyer, chief strategy officer at iRobot, a leading maker of robotics whose products range from the household favorite Roomba vacuum cleaner to the now iconic PackBot, which has been used extensively in combat to dispose of bombs. War robots proliferated in Iraq and Afghanistan, including PackBot, pictured. Now more civilian applications are emerging.
And robotics is on the cusp of remaking many private-sector industries from agriculture to medicine. Imagine unmanned aerial vehicles monitoring crops and the environment; robots dropped onto nuclear plants to investigate disasters; medical robots, or medbots, delivering medicine.