Robots seem like the stuff of science fiction. NASA’s new LEMUR robot, designed to climb rock walls on Mars, is no exception. But here on Earth, the forward march of automation continues, transforming business and society.
But there’s a barrier holding us back from realizing the full potential of emerging tech: regulatory bottlenecks. Regulations are struggling to keep up with tech advances; as a result, they’re slowing the “robo revolution.”
That’s a shame because never before have there been so many new applications for robots across all sectors of society. For example, robotic drones — used to improve crop yield through farm mapping — are gaining acceptance in countries like Ghana and Kenya. Other African countries are still preparing, with Nigeria developing a regulatory framework for drones.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is contemplating appropriate laws to oversee the use of autonomous vehicles, which are essentially robotic cars. Regulatory red tape is also hindering robots from breaking into the financial services industry. New approaches to trading through robo advisors need to be approved by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).
Keys to Bringing Robots into Your Business
Of course, regulations don’t present a hard barrier to further advancements in robotics; it’s more a matter of how much regulation will delay or disrupt robots’ integration into society. With that uncertainty, businesses must gauge the risk of investing resources in robot initiatives. Leaders have to take a practical, forward-thinking approach to this emerging opportunity.
To help develop that mindset, take these three steps when determining how robots can play a role in your business.
1. Encourage creative thinking on your team.
Don’t let regulatory roadblocks discourage your team from thinking outside the box when it comes to implementing new tech. Regardless of the regulatory environment, creativity is fundamental to finding new solutions in a complex marketplace.
“Nurture creative thinking,” urges Colum Donahue, CEO and co-founder of Genuity, a firm with a mission to help companies make better tech purchasing decisions. “You can help your organization remain competitive and creative by providing a supportive environment in which people feel free to experiment, fail and iterate.” This type of environment will attract and retain high-performing people, which will give your business an important edge in the robo revolution.
To further encourage creativity, foster an openness to new ideas. Strive to provide a positive workspace, with a diversity of team members and plentiful opportunities for teamwork and personal projects. When those projects bear fruit, reward staff for creative solutions that are compatible with regulations.
2. Keep experimenting, but be aware of the regulatory big picture.
Technology is a moving target. What worked yesterday won’t work today. You need to constantly experiment and do your own research to prove consumers and regulatory bodies are ready for your advances.
This is the minimum necessary to stay competitive — regulators are also experimenting. The concept of a regulatory “sandbox” began with the 2015 launch of the Regulatory Sandbox program from the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority. In the two years after, 23 more countries adopted similar test beds for new regulatory approaches. These nations get the point: Innovation requires experimentation.
Review relevant laws, noting how potential changes might affect your path forward. Consult your legal team to make sure you understand new rules and regulations coming down the pike. Taking a proactive approach to monitoring regulatory changes will help ensure you’re not blindly advancing in a direction that may soon bog you down.
3. Advocate for regulatory change.
It’s not enough to merely compete in the robo revolution. You need to advocate for laws that encourage, rather than stifle, innovation. One clear example of the need for this type of advocacy comes from the fintech sector. There are clear benefits to financial technology, such as efficiency and lower overhead costs, but well-meaning regulations can become a hindrance.
Differences in state laws regarding fintech can force companies to become licensed in every state they operate in. They can also hamper their ability to offer nationally available products and services. Advocating for broader laws that apply nationwide would enable these organizations to consolidate operations and pass the savings on to their clients. Look for mismatches between what your business and industry can provide and the laws that constrain those possibilities. Seek others to create solidarity and a shared voice for pushing for positive change.
Good regulations provide stability, a level playing field, and a boost to consumer confidence. They’re necessary to protect consumers. They can also be a boon to business, but they only work if they’re updated to take into account new developments. “If the volume and pace of digital transformation continues to remain the way it is, the existing regulatory approach won’t work,” says Bakul Patel, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s associate center director for digital health. “The current regulatory approach is not well-suited to support that fast pace of development.”
The robo revolution will test whether business leaders and lawmakers have the ability and political will to craft smart regulations. Business leaders have to shape their teams and in-house projects, stay on top of regulatory developments, and push for regulatory changes. Those who make this central to their mission will be at the leading edge of this revolution — and able to reap its rewards.