One thing today in tech — robot orders fell 37 percent in Q2 in North America

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In today’s episode, sales of robots are down by almost a third from the first six months of last year. But first, some headlines that caught my attention.

Headlines that caught our attention

India's first indigenously developed nuclear power plant unit has started operations at full capacity, Business Today reports. The plant, in Kakrapar, Gujarat, had two existing 200 MWe units. This third unit, and a fourth one that is expected to go online in March 2024, are India's first pair of indigenously designed Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors of 700 MW size with enhanced safety features, according to the Nuclear Power Corporation of India.

Elon Musk said yesterday that video and audio calls will be coming to X, formerly Twitter. The features will work on iOS, Android, Mac and PC, Musk wrote in a post on the microblogging site. No phone number is needed because X is effectively a global address book, he added.

Google has announced Oct. 4 as the date for its annual Pixel hardware event, 9To5Google reports. Like last year, the event is taking place in New York City. The “Made by Google” event and keynote will be at 10 am ET. You can catch the livestream on YouTube and the Google Store website. Two of the devices expected are the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro, according to 9To5Google.

IBM last month signed a $69.8 million (£54.7 million) contract with the British government to develop a national biometrics platform that will offer a facial recognition function to immigration and law enforcement officials, The Verge reports, citing documents reviewed by it and Liberty Investigates, an investigative journalism organisation in the UK. Some human rights activists have now accused IBM CEO Arvind Krishna of reneging on a promise he made three years ago to not build general purpose facial recognition technology for surveillance. IBM says this UK contract, meant to help police track suspects, doesn’t violate that promise, according to The Verge.

One thing today

Now, robot sales fell for the second quarter in a row in the US, the world’s biggest tech market. A slow US economy and high interest rates have taken a toll on robot orders in North America, resulting in a decline for the second quarter in a row after record purchases in 2021 and 2022, the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), said in a press release yesterday.

Companies ordered 7,697 robots valued at $457 million from April to July 2023, a 37 percent decline in robot orders and 20 percent drop in value over the same period in 2022.

When combined with first quarter results, the robotics market in North America is down 29 percent compared to the first half of last year with a total of 16,865 robots ordered. This drop comes after a record 2022, where North American companies ordered 44,196 robots, up 11 percent over 2021, the previous record.

The ongoing labour shortage in the US, especially in manufacturing (down another 2000 jobs in July, according to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics) remains a key driver of automation. An increasing trend towards reshoring tasks back to the US is another factor.

Non-automotive customers ordered more robots in the second quarter of 2023 than automotive customers, with 52 percent of units going to non-automotive industries and 48 percent going to automotive OEMs and component suppliers.

Both categories were down compared to the second quarter of last year, however, with non-automotive orders down 21 percent and automotive orders down 49 percent. The strongest demand in Q2 came from the semiconductor and electronics industries, followed by life sciences/pharma and biomedical, plastics and rubber and metals, with automotive components, food and consumer goods and automotive OEMs showing the biggest drops.