The robots are coming, but they aren’t what you think. Just as PCs appeared on every office worker’s desk in the 1980s, soon every worker could have their own software robot.
That was the prediction made by Daniel Dines, co-founder and CEO of UiPath, a vendor of robotics process automation (RPA), at Techonomy 2018.
UiPath is one of the fastest-growing startups in history, said David Kirkpatrick, founder of Techonomy, achieving an annual run rate of $200 million and expanding to over 1,700 employees in less than three years. He described this quick growth with a personal anecdote.
“We first met UiPath when they were in the next WeWork office from us in Manhattan,” he said. “Now they have an entire floor of a giant building on Park Avenue. And that was just a year ago.”
RPA software does for rote office work what autonomous driving software does for vehicles, Dines explained. An autonomous car “gets smarter because it understands the traffic, it captures information on all the other cars by using computer vision and GPS. And it’s able to make decisions related to the traffic,” he said. With RPA, “in the context of a business process, like paying an invoice or booking a flight from a website, you can define the process and [direct the software] to follow a series of steps.”
UiPath’s software “is able to emulate people,” he said. “Instead of driving a car, we emulate people using all sorts of applications.”
Dines, who worked at Microsoft in the United States in the early 2000s before moving back to his native Romania to found his own company, humbly described how UiPath developed. It didn’t start with an RPA product, but began by building software that understands text on a computer screen, a problem that was very challenging, he noted. UiPath began to sell that application to other software companies, and eventually to business process outsourcing (BPO) companies. That led the UiPath into the RPA business.
“Business process outsourcing set the stage for robotics because in order to shift processes from the U.S. to India, they had to simplify the processes and make them easily replicable,” he explained. “That made it easier to apply robotics to emulate people.”
Kirkpatrick noted that RPA has created fear among some people that it will displace humans from their jobs.
“It’s not about displacing jobs,” Dines said. “It’s about eliminating repetitive activities.” In fact, he said RPA can increase job security “because once you are no longer required to do these completely automatable, repetitive tasks, which are really of low value for an enterprise, you’ll have more time to do higher level type of work.”
As people use RPA, they will begin to embrace the idea just as they came to embrace personal computing, said Dines. And it might happen sooner rather than later. Dines noted that over the next couple of years UiPath has a few customers that will each implement 150,000 robots.
Watch Dines’ talk: