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Recent Research: Use of industrial robots yields greener economic growth

June 16, 2022
By: Ashwin Shenoy

A recent study found that the use of industrial robots (UIR) can reduce a country’s overall ecological footprint while simultaneously promoting economic growth. This is through timesaving, green employment, and energy upgrading effects that increase as the level of economic development and human capital within the country increases. The researchers also observed that the effect of UIR in reducing the ecological footprint is more evident in countries that are members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) – which includes some of the world’s most carbon-intensive nations. Therefore, UIR can simultaneously be used to further economic growth while increasing environmental protection and reducing contributions that accelerate climate change.

For this study, a team of researchers from Qingdao University of Science and Technology and Nanchang University assessed industrial robot data for 72 countries between 1993 and 2019. The researchers developed a regression model that uses per capita ecological footprint to measure the ecological environment. The installation density of industrial robots and the operating density of industrial robots are used as core explanatory variables. The installation density of robots is the number of industrial robots that are installed per 1,000 employees, while the operating density of industrial robots is the number of industrial robots that are operating per 1,000 employees.

Through the use of a rigorous model that controls for industrialization level, natural resource rents, electric structure, globalization level, and trade level — while also accounting for variables such as GDP per capita, human capital index, and the average annual working hours for a person in each country — the study shows that UIR can reduce the ecological footprint. For both the installation density and the operating density of robots, the study found that UIR does more to reduce the ecological footprint than to increase it — respectively by net benefits of 10 and 7 percent.

The study finds, however, that this relationship is the greatest in highly developed OECD countries; the greatest reductions in ecological footprint are more evident in countries with high levels of both GDP per capita and greater human capital. UIR can have a greater net negative impact on the ecological footprint in these countries.

The authors of this study argue that UIR can reduce the ecological footprint by saving time in industrial processes, employing more individuals in environmentally friendly jobs, and improving energy efficiency. At the same time, UIR adds to the ecological footprint by furthering industrialization. Regardless, the study confirms that the net effects of UIR lead to a reduction in the ecological footprint. Therefore, the authors suggest that countries should take initiatives to increase R&D in AI technology, increase their human capital skills when developing industrial robots, and upgrade their industrial infrastructure.

This research paper, How Does the Use of Industrial Robots Affect the Ecological Footprint? International Evidence by Yang Chen, Liang Cheng, and Chien-Chiang Lee, is available for download here.

recent research, robotics