War robots have proliferated in Iraq and Afghanistan, including iRobot’s PackBot, pictured. Now more civilian applications are emerging. 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.
But there’s no need to imagine, as many of these advanced robots are in use. With the national airspace opening to unmanned aircraft by 2015, manufacturers are preparing for more non-military customers. They’re designing and manufacturing smaller, affordable models for surveillance and public-safety use.