Gartner predicts that, by 2027, 10% of new intralogistics smart robots sold will be next-generation humanoid working robots.

Humanoid robots differ from previous generations of smart robots and will address some labour shortage challenges in supply chain intensive industries.

In this interview, Dwight Klappich, vice-president analyst and Gartner Fellow with the Gartner Supply Chain Practice, to discuss the interest in next-generation humanoid robots and how these robots could be the missing link in fully automated warehouse processes and why some supply chain leaders should start investing in the current generation of smart robots, despite the alluring benefits of the next generation.


What is driving the surge of interest among organisations in humanoid robots?

Until recently, there were no successful examples of humanoid robots that used arms and legs to navigate, pick up and manipulate items.

What makes next-generation humanoid working robots different is their ability to eventually obtain the level of adaptability that humans have, which will allow robots to be used and repurposed for many different activities without programming.

Next-generation humanoid robots will compete with the current cost of labor for similar functions and will provide higher availability and reliability than the human workforce.

These robots can flexibly support the needs of the business by dynamically moving from process to process and taking on new activities without special programming.

These developments are very exciting to supply chain and other industry leaders who have struggled with chronic labour challenges.

It’s important to keep in mind that supply chain demand for robots remains very high, in general.

A Gartner survey conducted in October 2023 through December 2024 with 506 supply chain employees involved in supply chain management processes or operations found that 51% of respondents said they believe robots are highly disruptive technologies, and about 60% also said that they believe these are highly important to their businesses.

Gartner research finds that around half of respondents cite rising labour costs and a similar number raise concerns about labour availability as notable reasons for investing in robotics, which explains the interest in the category.


How will humanoid robots improve upon currently used robots in warehouse settings?

The immobile, inflexible and programmed single activity architecture of traditional industrial robots is too limiting for the mobile and varied work tasks required in warehouses.

Today, robots are principally useful for addressing repeatable tasks with minimal variance from activity to activity or for moving things around from one location to another.

Moving around and picking up individual items of varying sizes, shapes and orientations is difficult for robots, but easy for humans.

As a result, we project humanoid robots will evolve during the next several years to address the limitations of previous generations of automation, and will provide the necessary cost savings, flexibility, adaptability and scalability that will generate large-scale investments from a range of different organisations.


Where do humanoid robots fit within an overall intralogistics smart robot strategy?

The potential for humanoid robots is clearly alluring, but it would be a mistake for supply chain operations with high-volume, predictable and consistent processes to delay investments in more widely available smart robots today.

These organisations should consider some of the current generations of intralogistics smart robots to enhance or supplement their human workforce.

Before pursuing humanoid robots, companies must start mapping their functional processes to determine which, if any, of these processes can be addressed with current generations of robots and which will benefit most from “human-centred” design.

To do this, leaders should identify those processes that need high degrees of flexibility and adaptability and focus on learning how your human workforce performs these tasks to understand what capabilities a humanoid robot will need to support.

Because next-generation humanoid working robots are a nascent technology, companies must develop a structured methodology for conducting effective proofs of concept. Leading edge companies are building robotics competency and collaboration centers (RCCC) to take on these roles.


Content provided courtesy of Gartner