By Laura Shin
Posting in Science
Advances in robot technology are leading factories and distributors to use one robot to replace five workers or more.
But innovation can sometimes raise uncomfortable prospects. Take, for instance, innovations in robots that will allow them to do many jobs that humans have long been doing in fields such as manufacturing and distribution.
A new wave of highly skilled robots is already starting to replace workers around the world, at cutting-edge companies like electric car maker Tesla and technology leader Apple, as well as at behind-the-scenes actors such as C&S Wholesale Grocers, a major grocery supplier.
These robots are much more adept than the ones of yesteryear and are already starting to replace humans, The New York Times reports in a long feature.
For instance, while Apple manufacturer Foxconn is continuing to build new factories that will employee people, it is also planning to install more than a million robots within the next few years. The company's chairman, Terry Gou, gave a colorful quote in January to China's Xinhua news agency: “As human beings are also animals, to manage one million animals gives me a headache.”
What differentiates these robots
New robots not only improve on previous versions but are also so many leaps and bounds beyond in capability that they can replace more than one worker.
New robots in a Tesla factory in Fremont, Calif., outdo previous ones by being able to perform as many as four functions instead of just one. For instance, they may weld, rivet, bond and install a component.
Tesla can also use the same robots to manufacture different cars, simply by reprogramming them. This concept of a flexible robot could be the new direction for manufacturing in robots.
New robots outfitted with electronic "eyes" can also be much faster in distribution scenarios. A new robot being developed by Industrial Perception Inc. uses scoops, suction cups -- and a technology akin to Microsoft's Kinect motion sensing system -- to pick up boxes and drop them onto conveyor belts with a much lower "injury" rate than, say, the tens of thousands of human workers employed by FedEx and UPS who have all probably suffered from a bad back at least once.
Industrial Perception projects that its robots will also soon be much, much faster. While average human workers move a box every six seconds (and let's ignore the fact that they also get tired while moving boxes that can weigh more than 130 pounds), the company projects that the robot will soon move a box every second.
Some robots can do things that humans simply would find impossible to do: At a Phillips Electronics factory in the Netherlands, a robot can slip wires into holes almost too small to be seen.
And, did we mention that they can work 365 days a year without even a bathroom break?
How they are beginning to replace humans
Many companies are already beginning to use these highly skilled robots.
- Earthbound Farms in California has robot arms that put organic lettuce into clamshell containers. They are so fast that each robot replaces two to five workers at the company.
- Boeing uses giant machines to make its wide-body commercial jets, finding them more precise and safer for workers.
- Royal Philips Electronics, which manufactures electric shavers more complex to make than smartphones, uses robots encased in glass cages on top of which are perched video cameras. Those "eyes" guide the arms as they "bend wires with millimetric accuracy, set toothpick-thin spindles in tiny holes, grab miniature plastic gears and set them in housings, and snap pieces of plastic into place," according to The Times.
- At C&S, 168 "rover" robots the size of go-carts race around a warehouse at 25 miles per hour, manipulated wirelessly by a central computer. They can zoom right up to their destination (either a pickup or drop-off spot), grab the item they need and then go to a central chute where all the items are collected. The central computer can pack items in the exact unpacking order they need to be in to go onto the supermarket shelves.
As you can see, with these robots around, there isn't much need for humans. What do you think? Are these robots a promising development that won't threaten humans but create new jobs for them? Or are they a threat?
Related on SmartPlanet:
- Machine scoops up, deposits ketchup -- in same shape
- Video: Automated lamb boning makes for accurate butchering
- This robot can jump on water
- Small, speedy robots zip, roll, swarm through the air
- Video: A robot that uses whiskers to get around
via: The New York Times
photo: Tesla Motors assembly line (jurvetson/Flickr)
Aug 21, 2012
This is the question that science fiction has been asking for the past fifty years. When robots become cheap enough to do all manual labor what will people do. The idea that we are all going to start businesses or become engineers is just silly. Once robots do everything for us we will have to find some way for people to live without work or with very little work. In the book the jobless future the authors suggest that work will be rationed and it will mostly deal with people helping each other. It's a nice idea but given the level of greed that the upper classes display all around the world I tend to think utopia might only come after hell on earth. People do not uphold societies in which they have no stake. When Robots take the jobs and there is nothing to replace them things are going to get bad especially for those that took the lion share of benefits.
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I hope people realise that when robots takes our formers jobs we will no longer need to purchase goods anymore, we could could eliminate the whole monetary system, we could set up robots to plant seeds to grow our foods and as said above harvest our food for us then it could more than likely even be delivered to our doorstep by another robot. We'd even have robots driving us to our destinations. Robots wil do everythig for us so we can focus on actually living happy lives. People would still be needed to repair the robots and design them,but they'd actually be doing that becase they enjoy it, not because it's a high paying job.
As long as people want products that cost less and are consistently built and of good quality, robots will replace humans in manufacturing. Other jobs are better performed by robots for additional reasons such as human health concerns. However, there is still a demand for hand crafted products that exceed the quality of mass-produced items built to a price point. Robots cannot make these items efficiently. Robots are not good at making marketing and other human decsions. I seriously doubt that a computer could have decided to create and sell the iPad, but it turned out to be a successful product in the marketplace. There is a reason why "unskilled labor" has that moniker. Skilled labor, on the other hand, is in high demand, and U.S. manufacturers cannot find enough people to fill these jobs.
it is fascinating to reed this article but what about the human race we have 7billion that need to work what about them.
Be sure not to confuse 'doing manual labor' with 'replacing humans' -- they are not the same thing! Society had this same discussion a hundred and fifty years ago when it was the 'machines' that were taking over and were going to put men out of work. Most humans would be (and have been) happy to support themselves by some other means than manual labor -- mental labor and accumulated capital come to mind. When robots take over manual labor, it will just be a different kind of work that is available. But there will be work available. The amount of work to do is infinite because human wants and desires are infinite.
The manufacturing sector has mostly migrated offshore to cheap labor locales, but increasing wages in the 3rd world and rising energy and transportation costs are eating away at this strategy. More widespread use of robots will allow much of this work to return to the US where more will be done with less energy. Instead of a large labor force doing menial repetitive jobs a smaller better trained contingent can do more interesting and challenging high-tech maintenance and programming work. More profits, lower costs for consumers and better jobs for those still working. The adjustment for the newly unemployed requires imaginative creation of new work categories, job sharing, etc. Agriculture will steadily produce more with fewer field workers, service jobs will be increasingly automated, etc. The end of dull, repetitive and physically taxing work has long been a distant dream, but now that it's arriving it brings a new set of problems the futurists didn't anticipate. We could certainly use more and better people in human services, nursing, social work, education. The only real problem is allocating resources and planning intelligently for the ongoing transition to a world free of drudge work.
New, well paid jobs will be created by robotics, but there will be fewer of them than the jobs that will be eliminated. The motivation is to spend less on robots & labor combined than is spent on labor alone before the (expensive) robots are acquired.
I've spent decades figuring out how humans can find a new ecology. This is one of the toughest problems. ... You can replace humans and it is hard to beat efficiency. I think I have a solution. It's going to raise some eyebrows. Remember though, two of the most brilliant futurists, Issac Asimov and Frank herbert said that we were incompatible with robots.
One Reason robots can out maneuver humans is because their "brains" are so much simpler than a humans. The Robot brains don't need to keep a heart beating or worry about l eyes blinking, let alone deal with emotions. For manual labor this is a big plus. Let us not forget that someone must manufacture the robots and see to their maintenance and physical health. Sure we could build robots for that but them who -- yes who -- will take care of those robots. Companies may save money in salaries/union dues/insurance plans - but there will still be need for security and not energy costs. If they can have robots that can work in the dark - I suppose they could cut down energy costs by not using lights.
In the words of a blogger whose name I'm sorry to have forgotten: industries who count on humans for their customers should hire them.
My company manufactures a lot of products that requires sewing and we have had lots of problems trying to find people to fill those jobs. I don't see robots replacing people in that kind of a job any time soon. Too many variables.
...since the invention of the spade plow. Before that, nearly 100% of human endevour was devoted solely to growing food. People displaced by this technology found new things to do, and standards of living steadily grew. What would the world be like today had we decided that everything that needed to be invented had been invented like many thought 110 years ago? (I doubt you'd be wasting time on a web site like this had that been the case) Shall we stop now?
Not all of the new jobs will be created by robotics. In fact, very few of the new jobs are likely to be associated with robotics. Most of the new jobs will be created by the increased wealth that was created by robotics in areas completely unrelated to robotics.
I guess it depends on what you mean by 'robot'. I'm sure they had something in mind other than automated welding machines and self-guided floor sweepers. Most likely it was autonomous, sentient, conscious robots -- basically mechanical people. And they may or may not have been correct. But those kinds of robots are not what we are talking about here.
In the future robots will necessarily become wage earners. They have to be in order to create buyers for the products they make since humans will not have jobs - having been functionally replaced in the future economy. In the future there will surely be be companies that make underwear and tooth brushes for the well paid robot worker/consumers.