Like most technological advancements, there are always barriers.
Barriers in funding, barriers in limitations and most of all, barriers in implementation–meaning more often than not, if it’s a technology aimed at ‘changing the game’, there’s always a defense.
One of the newer advancements facing this uphill battle is the world of collaborative robotics. We’ve seen the movies: ‘I, Robot’, ‘Wall-E’, and this year’s ‘Tomorrowland’. What they have in common is that they paint an idea that the future will be filled with robots, and that it will be nothing but trouble.
And we don’t entirely blame them.
Let’s set the scene. We now live in the Internet of Things and in a world where everyday goods are produced thousands of miles away. Our population growth is skyrocketing and the demand of goods isn’t by any means decreasing. And that means a higher need of producers who have to be competitive, and in order to be competitive, a producer must have precision, efficiency, speed, and the ability to continuously keep overhead at a minimum. This means either paying less, or in this case, ‘hiring’ robots.
But–it’s not that gloomy. In fact, this new world of collaborative robots, doesn’t spell out trouble. It spells out potential – and possibility. And it’s starting with two robots.
Rethink Robotics’ Baxter and the newly created Sawyer are the poster children for a new era in global manufacturing and collaborative robotics.
Collaborative robots like Sawyer and Baxter aren’t being made to simply replace humans on the line just to keep overhead low. They are being made so we as a species can keep up with demand while maximizing (in other words liberating) human potential. These kinds of robots are painting a future where factories aren’t filled with lines of people dreading each movement they make, but rather filled with skilled workers happy to find the opportunities to do more, make better and waste less. Social intelligence, creativity, curiosity and risk-reward are four aspects of humanity that robots today don’t fully possess and probably never will. These are the aspects that will define the workers of tomorrow.
What robots like Baxter and Sawyer are great at are doing the things humans don’t want to do: the mundane and the repetitive. These are the tasks that require minimum intellectual skill but perfect hand-eye coordination and consistency; tasks like kitting, packaging, electronic manufacturing, machine tending and plastics.
The exciting news for collaborative robots, is that innovation is exponential.
Rethink Robotics have taken valuable lessons from Baxter and listened to early adopters to reduce the size of Sawyer to fit into a 2 x 2 x 5 foot area. This kind of area represents the standard space for a human on a tightly packed assembly line, which was something Baxter just couldn’t do. – Active 8 Robots
For the curious, we highly recommend watching Rodney Brooks of Rethink Robotics’ TED talk.
As a final note, we will leave you with these quotes:
Scaremongers play on the idea that robots will simply replace people on the job. In fact, they can become our essential collaborators, freeing us up to spend time on less mundane and mechanical challenges. – Rodney Brooks, Inventor of Baxter and Sawyer, Founder of Rethink Robotics
The characterization of jobs will change, our education might need to change, but that doesn’t mean that are not going to survive. We are going to have enough jobs. Robots are going to be helping us, not destroying us.” –Abhinav Gupta, Assistant Professor, Robotics Institute