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Census Bureau Branches Out, Counts 5,535 Robots

August 29, 1985

WASHINGTON (AP) _ After nearly two centuries of counting people the Census Bureau has branched out to their mechanical cousins, with its first official look at robots.

American companies produced 5,535 robots valued at $357.7 million last year, the Bureau said Wednesday in the new study, issued as part of its Current Industrial Reports.

The new survey is aimed at charting growing robot production in coming years. This effort did not attempt to count the number of robots already in use around the nation.

However, the Robotics Industries Association estimates that number to be between 16,000 and 17,000, according to spokesman Jeff Burnstein.

While most people encounter the Census Bureau only when it does its massive population counts, the agency is continually busy updating its figures and counting other aspects of life in America, including measuring business, agriculture and industry every five years.

The new study is the first step in formally adding robots to the Census of Industries, next scheduled for 1987.

Films have given robots the popular image of clanking, humanoid monsters, but most are basic industrial machines used to speed production and free humans from dangerous or repetitive jobs.

Past census counts of industry have included robots in machinery classifications according to their end use, such as welding machines, parts assemblers, paint sprayers and so forth, explained Ken McBeth of the Census Bureau’s Industry Division.

But that made it hard to measure robot production and use, and complicated the business of tracking imports and exports of robots, prompting the Robotics Industries Association to ask for the separate count, McBeth said.

Burnstein said the group’s current aim is to have a new Standard Industrial Classification code issued for robots, giving them a separate listing on government censuses and other statistics collections.

That would make it easier to count the growing number of imported robots, Burnstein said in a telephone interview from his Dearborn, Mich., office.

But to obtain such a classification, an industry must show that it is growing and becoming an important factor, McBeth explained, which is why the new study was launched.

The Census report found 75 companies engaged in production of robots last year, with shipments of 5,535 machines valued at $357,744,000.

Burnstein said that is close to figures his association has collected. The group estimated U.S. robot production at 5,136 units last year, with a value of $332.5 million.

If current growth trends continue, the U.S. robotics industry could have production of $1 billion by 1988, McBeth and Burnstein agreed, making it more than eligible for a separate industrial classification.

According to the Census report, welding, soldering and brazing jobs were the most common industrial functions for robots produced last year. That area accounted for 1,474 of the robots shipped.

Second was the broad classification of educational, hobby and experimental robots, which totaled 1,304.

Other major categories of use for the 1984 production included materials handling, 790; product assembly, 613; spraying, painting and glueing, 450, and machine tool loading, 202.

For the record, the Census Bureau defines a robot as a ″re-programmable multi-functional manipulator designed to move material, parts, tools or specialized devices through variable programmed motions for the performance of a variety of tasks.″

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