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Engineering Materials
Self-Assembled Devices May Transform Manufacturing
4/3/2013

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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.
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.

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Ann R. Thryft
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Re: A challenge to China labor
Ann R. Thryft   4/5/2013 12:05:07 PM
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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.



Ann R. Thryft
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Re: A challenge to China labor
Ann R. Thryft   4/5/2013 12:04:23 PM
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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?

Rob Spiegel
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Re: A challenge to China labor
Rob Spiegel   4/5/2013 10:27:35 AM
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Hey GTOlover,

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.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: A challenge to China labor
Rob Spiegel   4/5/2013 10:23:23 AM
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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.

Cabe Atwell
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Re: A challenge to China labor
Cabe Atwell   4/5/2013 2:19:13 AM
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As fantastic as this is, I would like to see this tech integrated into robotic toys. True "transformers," a childhood dream is almost fulfilled.

C

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: A challenge to China labor
Ann R. Thryft   4/4/2013 8:07:03 PM
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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.

GTOlover
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Re: A challenge to China labor
GTOlover   4/4/2013 12:09:38 PM
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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?

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Self-Assembled Devices
Ann R. Thryft   4/4/2013 12:04:40 PM
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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.



Ann R. Thryft
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Re: A challenge to China labor
Ann R. Thryft   4/4/2013 12:04:01 PM
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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.



Rob Spiegel
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Re: A challenge to China labor
Rob Spiegel   4/3/2013 5:33:37 PM
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Hey, Dave,

 

Good points. However, the additional profits may not go to more jobs. It may go to more robots.

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