As Boeing booms, robots rise and job growth lags

An article published on Monday November 16th, 2015 in Reuters, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/11/16/us-boeing-production-robots-insight-idUSKCN0T50E420151116#b6etFO8RpHo75xX8.97, states that Boeing’s longstanding cycle of employment soaring when they needed to turn out more planes and then having to lay off employees when the rate fell is no longer. The world’s largest plane maker is in the midst of their biggest peacetime boom, producing 20% more planes than when the last big peak in the 1990’s. But, Boeing is doing so with 1/3 fewer workers, in their place Boeing is turning to robots and to outsourcing. Over the past year, they have installed four banks of 2 story riveting machines at their 737 factory in Renton, WA. These 60 ton robots work twice as fast as people and have two-thirds fewer defects. At their 777 plant in Everett, WA, they have installed robotic arms to drill and rivet fuselages together. According to Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg the machines are “taking what is in the neighborhood of 50,000 to 70,000 fasteners in the 777 fuselage that are today applied by hand and automating them,” and that it is a “huge transformation in how we build airplanes.” Boeing believes that automation is essential to improve quality and worker safety, while also lowering costs and helping them keep up with their rival Airbus.

Will any other domestic airplane manufacturers switch to using robots? Should the workers at Boeing be frightened of losing their jobs to robots?

Toyota Research Institute to further AI and robotics research

A recent article published on November 9th, 2015 in Gizmag, http://www.gizmag.com/toyota-research-institute-robotics-ai/40284/, states that Toyota Motor Corporation has announced that it will commit $1 billion over the next 5 years to establish the Toyota Research Institute (TRI). TRI will be a research and development center that will initially focus on artificial intelligence (AI) and on robotics. Toyota is tasked with developing technologies to increase driving safety and to improve mobility and quality of life, particularly for the elderly. The initial focus of TRI will be to focus on technologies intended to improve the accessibility and safety of vehicles through looking at the way machines and people work together. Rather than focusing on the development of fully autonomous vehicles, TRI will focus on accident avoidance and expanding driver opportunities to everyone regardless of their abilities. Toyota also has aspirations to use big data and robotics research to help improve the quality of life for everyone, not just drivers. TRI will begin operations in January of 2016, and will be headquartered near both Stanford University and MIT.

How can AI and robotics increase driving safety and improve mobility and quality of life for people? Will other large companies invest into this technology as much as Toyota?

Robots are helping run the first ‘fully digital’ hospital in North America

According to an article published on October 25th, 2015 in the Tech Insider, http://www.techinsider.io/robots-are-helping-run-the-first-fully-digital-hospital-in-north-america-2015-10, patients entering the Humber River Hospital in Toronto, CA will not only interact with healthcare professionals, but also with automated robots that have been programmed to complete a variety of tasks in the hospital. Humber River Hospital is touting itself as the first fully digital hospital. They opened their doors to the public this week and are using automated robots for everything from delivering food and medical supplies to patients, to preparing and administering chemotherapy drugs. The robots that are used to move medical supplies are designed to pick up carts, call an elevator, and deliver them to the appropriate place. The robots that assist with the delivery of chemotherapy medication receive orders of the drugs that need to be mixed from the physician, then check the dose and the patient’s previous medical doses, mix the drugs, and then finally deliver the drugs. There are also robots in the radiology rooms that move around the patient to take scans, rather than the patient contorting their body into difficult positions to take the scans. In addition, all rooms in the hospital have a touch-pad system where patients can access their electronic health record, Skype, order food, and read books. This is a great example of how robotics is changing the healthcare and medical industry.

What other tasks could robots perform in a hospital? Would you go a hospital that treated you and mixed your medicine with robots?

Samsung, South Korea Team Up To Build Robots That Will Replace Human Workers

An article published on October 21st, 2015 in the Tech Times, http://www.techtimes.com/articles/97472/20151021/samsung-south-korea-team-up-to-build-robots-that-will-replace-human-workers.htm, describes how Samsung has received an investment of $14.8 million from the government of South Korea to develop robots that can perform complex tasks in factories and compete with the cheap labor rates of China. Many smartphone manufacturers, including Samsung, are dependent on cheap Chinese labor for manufacturing many of their products. However, the increasing labor costs of Chinese workers has been negatively affecting many of these company’s profits. Increasing labor costs in China is one of the main reasons why Samsung is making the switch to automated factories. The South Korean Ministry stated, “Once affordable robots reach the market and are more widely used, it can lead to the creation of ‘smart factories’ and bring about far-reaching innovations to the manufacturing sector.” In 2014 robot sales increased by 29% over 2013 and were at their highest level ever at 229,261 units. Even with that, only 10% of manufacturing processes are done by robots, but that number is estimated to double by 2025. The South Korean Ministry is claiming that if Samsung successfully develops robots that can perform complex human tasks, then the dependence on cheap Chinese labor will decrease over time, not only in South Korea but also in other parts of the world.

Will Samsung be able to develop robots to successfully manufacture smart phones? If so, what impact will that have on the smartphone and tablet industries? What impact will this have on the Chinese manufacturing sector? Is this the fate of any other future industries?

Honda designing new ASIMO-style robot for disaster response

An article published on October 13th, 2015 in Extreme Tech, http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/216188-honda-designing-new-asimo-style-robot-for-disaster-response, states that Honda is developing a new version of their ASIMO robot that could be useful in dangerous settings to help keep humans out of harm’s way. The current ASIMO robot is arguably the most advanced robot in the world, so why didn’t Honda put their robots into action during the Fukushima nuclear disaster? It wasn’t the cost of the robots, it was that ASIMO would have essentially been useless in that situation. At the point ASIMO was not capable of navigating the chaotic environment of a damaged nuclear reactor. Because of this, Honda has already began working on prototype disaster robots that can negotiate obstacles and climb ladders. A humanoid robot, such as ASIMO, is vastly more useful than other types of robots in a dangerous setting, because there is going to be ladders, stairs, doors, and walkways that other types of robots would not be able to navigate. As of now, there is no target for when the disaster robot will be ready for action. But either way, this is a great example of how robotics is changing the way things have traditionally been done.

Do you think that disaster response robots could really be effective? How long will it take Honda to develop a fully functional disaster response robot?

FANUC and Cisco Collaborate to Increase Uptime for Connected Machines

An article published October 7th, 2015 in Business Wire, http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20151007006112/en/FANUC-Cisco-Collaborate-Increase-Uptime-Connected-Machines#.VhVXY5erMo0, states that FANUC America and Cisco have announced a collaboration to connect industrial robots in the manufacturing industry. The robots will operate on a connected system which will allow new, preventative maintenance on operations equipment, which could result in a dramatic reduction in unplanned production downtime. This announcement comes after FANUC America and Cisco’s 12-month Zero Downtime (ZDT) pilot project. Their ZDT project helped a major automotive manufacturer to significantly decrease production downtime and as a result also increase their overall equipment effectiveness. Unplanned production downtime can be very costly to companies, and with the FANUC ZDT Solution, the system proactively detects and informs potential equipment or process problems before the unexpected downtime occurs. This allows the maintenance issue to be addressed before the downtown and in a planned outage window. In the past, issues were only discovered with robots during times of production downtime. Now the robot is connected through the Cisco network and the specific issue and the maintenance can be schedule ahead of time, reducing the amount of downtime. Rick Schneider, the CEO for FANUC America, believes that this new solution could add profound value for their customers and help them enable the Internet of Things transformation that many manufacturers have long-awaited.

What is the potential for connected robots and the ZDT system? What impact on production employees could this new system have? Are there any downfalls of having a completely connected robotic workforce?

 

Amazon Robotics: IoT (Internet of Things) In The Warehouse

According to an article posted on 9/28/2015 in Information Week, http://www.informationweek.com/strategic-cio/amazon-robotics-iot-in-the-warehouse/d/d-id/1322366, the real magic behind the Internet of Things (IoT) is already happening at Amazon’s massive fulfillment centers around the US. They currently have thousands of robots operating in these locations gathering merchandise for individual orders. Previously to fulfill an order, Amazon warehouse workers had to roam the floor scanning racks of merchandise in order to find a specific product. But now, Kiva Systems has developed a method to use robots to move the racks or “pods” on which the products are stored instead of having them search out the individual product itself. There are two versions of this robot, the “G” for pods weighing up to 750 lbs and the “S” for pods weighing up to 3,000 lbs. They can operate for 60 minutes, followed by a brief 5 minute charge time. They are controlled by a centralized computer system and have 2 powered wheels that allow them to rotate in place, floor cameras and QR codes on the floor so that they can determine their location/direction, and IR sensors for obstacle detection. Once the customer clicks the “buy” button online, priority is determined and the robots locate and move the pod to the assigned packing station so that a worker can prepare the order for shipment. The robots have managed to keep Amazon’s warehouses fully employed. The system is designed so that when a worker is not packing an order, they have time to restock shelves or do an inventory check of a pod brought in by a robot, instead of scouring Amazon’s massive warehouse for an individual item.

If you were an employee at one of these warehouses would you be worried about your job? How far will Amazon take the use of robots in their fulfillment centers? What is next application for robots at Amazon?