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These charts show how Asia is dominating industrial-robot adoption

Europe and America have far fewer robot workers than we might expect them to have.
November 27, 2018
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Robots are joining the workforce around the world. But while it’s obvious their numbers are rising, it can be hard to work out which countries are currently ahead of the curve.

The most common measure is one used by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) each year: the number of industrial robots per 10,000 manufacturing workers in the country. According to information released by the IFR to the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), the global average in 2017 was 85 bots per 10,000 workers. This is a 15% increase from last year.

Korea once again has topped the charts, with 710 robots per 10,000 workers, followed by Singapore with 658 and Germany with 322. India was at the bottom of the list, with only 3 robots per 10,000 workers.

*Data not provided for any countries grayed out

But is this the best way to measure the inroads of the robot revolution? A new report out from the ITIF argues that countries with higher-wage economies have a stronger business case for adopting more robots. Bringing bots into a business is an expensive initial investment, so when humans are a significantly cheaper option, there isn’t much incentive to buy them.     

In the new report, the ITIF decided to examine robot adoption in 27 countries, adjusting for how many robots they would be expected to be have on the basis of their current wealth.

With this measure, they found Southeast Asian countries to be even more dominant than they appeared before. The chart-toppers of South Korea and Singapore remained at the top, with adoption rates about 2.4 and 1.7 times what would be anticipated from current average wages. But the analysis also shines a light on countries like Thailand, which—although it has only 48 industrial robots per 10,000 manufacturing workers—has adoption rates 159% higher than its wage levels would predict.

 *Data not provided for any countries grayed out

On the other hand, most countries in the Americas and Europe were found to be bringing on robots much more slowly than expected. The United States and the UK were found to be adopting 49% and 68% fewer industrial robots than expected.

According to this report, when it comes to automation, Asia has the upper hand. As the study’s author, ITIF president Robert D. Atkinson, argues: “If these gaps persist or continue to widen, it will bode ill for the future economy-wide productivity and competitiveness of Europe and America, and both regions need to identify and adopt policies to dramatically increase their rates of robot adoption.”