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The Joint Research Centre (JRC) is the European Commission's science and knowledge service which employs scientists to carry out research in order to provide independent scientific advice and support to EU policy.
This paper analyses data on industrial robots in European manufacturing sectors, focusing on their applications and characteristics, their distribution over countries and sectors and the main factors that are correlated with robot adoption such as wage levels and robot prices. We argue that, contrary to popular belief, the types of robots widely used in manufacturing today do not imply a discontinuity in terms of automation and labour replacement possibilities. Instead, current robot technology is better understood as the most recent iteration of industrial automation technologies that have existed for a very long time. In fact, these automation technologies arguably had their biggest employment impact generations ago, partially explaining changes in employment structures in agricultural and manufacturing sectors that go back to the Industrial Revolution. Thus, the potential employment effects of current robot technology are a priori limited.