The SuperBot is a set of robotic modules that form and reform linear or solid shapes, such as this walking humanoid form. Developed for possible use by NASA in planetary exploration, SuperBot can walk, crawl, climb, and carry things depending on its form.
Rob, I think you're right about those two apps. Meanwhile, though, people in machine vision and other industries have told me, off record, they wish they had robots, not humans, working in their factories.
Companies rarely invest in more workers when they make more profits--that would generally be seen as anti-productive, since the productivity metric is usually how many dollars are brought in per worker. Unless, of course, they've decided to expand operations that need more workers. And obviously this all depends on what kind of jobs and workers we mean. But many, many companies don't want more or any human workers: they want robot workers, automated hardware, and increasingly sophisticated software. Which makes me wonder how many engineering jobs have been lost to design software--anyone know?
If the robots are to coninue their expansion, it will be at the cost of blue collar jobs. That's the ROI. The addition of smart jobs must be small in comparison to the elimination of worker jobs or the robots will not offer value. Look out China.
Yes, Ann, and it will be interesting to see the future of robots. Apparently they are paying for themselves, since implementations dont get very far in factory automation without a clear ROI. It will be interesting to see who implements the new wave of robots. I'll put my money on the suppliers in auto and aerospace.
Thanks, GTOlover. That's the point I was trying to make: what happens when low-skilled jobs are replaced by higher-skilled jobs? This sounds great--until you wonder what happens to the displaced workers. Once upon a time, there were a lot more low-skilled workers than high-skilled ones. I'd like to know what the proportions are today, in the US and elsewhere. The raw numbers in China must be huge.
I would add that the company is not a closed economic system. Those new jobs are usually a higher skill set than the workers displaced by the robots (maintenance, engineering, and programmers). Some companies 'invest' in re-training, others hire replacements that either paid for their own skills upgrade or got the taxpayer to pick up the tab. The point being, job growth of a company upgrading productivity by automation does displace lower skilled labor but enhances job growth for higher skilled workers.
So in a sense, Ann is correct that blue collar workforce is endangered by robots. If China loses work to robots, what will the billions of workers do?
Al, I think you're right about the consumer apps, at least in the beginning. But these technologies will be capable of making--and re-making!--a lot of other stuff. I know it's hard to imagine--I felt like my brain went through a painful re-orientation during the reporting of this article--but I really think it's possible, even likely.
Rob, I think those are good, and accurate, observations about the differences between automation in the past and robots now. Robots are, in one sense, Factory Automation 2.0. The industry has already gone through all the 101/1.0 pain--poor implementation and poorly designed apps, since it was all new--and learned a lot of lessons. Plus. there are many, many companies who would like to replace human workers with robots.
Artificially created metamaterials are already appearing in niche applications like electronics, communications, and defense, says a new report from Lux Research. How quickly they become mainstream depends on cost-effective manufacturing methods, which will include additive manufacturing.
SpaceX has 3D printed and successfully hot-fired a SuperDraco engine chamber made of Inconel, a high-performance superalloy, using direct metal laser sintering (DMLS). The company's first 3D-printed rocket engine part, a main oxidizer valve body for the Falcon 9 rocket, launched in January and is now qualified on all Falcon 9 flights.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and MIT have 3D-printed a new class of metamaterials that are both exceptionally light and have exceptional strength and stiffness. The new metamaterials maintain a nearly constant stiffness per unit of mass density, over three orders of magnitude.
Smart composites that let the material's structural health be monitored automatically and continuously are getting closer to reality. R&D partners in an EU-sponsored project have demonstrated what they say is the first complete, miniaturized, fiber-optic sensor system entirely embedded inside a fiber-reinforced composite.
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