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Robots & Human - Peaceful Co-existence

Robots & Human - Peaceful Co-existence
Ajai Kumar - Vice President - Engineering R&D | October 26, 2015
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Robots

Just came back from a 3 days trip to Beijing (Sept 20th to 23rd, 2015).

My trip coincided with the Beijing marathon held on Sept 20th 2015. This year, the marathon event saw an increased participation with approx. 30,000 runners from 45 countries. Interestingly, this 30,000 was down selected from the total 65,000+ applicants. A very positive indicator to show not only better public fitness plus increased enthusiasm on running as a hobby but also a planned move from the organizing committee to upgrade the Beijing event from a mass sport gala to a showcase targeting elite level runners. Keep raising the bar……an indicator of a progressive society.

Next, there is a clear indicator on the rise of automation & use of robots. International Federation of Robotics (IFR) an association based in Frankfurt, Germany predicts that China is expected to install more Industrial robots than any other country by 2017. Currently, China’s industrial robot density is low (only about 30 industrial robots per 10,000 manufacturing workers as compared to 437 for South Korea). This means it will form a cornerstone in the China’s newly announced 2025 plan around “Made in China” to modernize its manufacturing processes and shifting labor intensive work to Robots. I was also reading an article which predicted that one in three workers not only in Asia but worldwide find themselves replaced by new technology and use of robots in the next 10 years. Similar predictions have been made by several think tanks globally including but not limited to Gartner, Oxford University, CEDA (Committee for Economic Development of Australia). Gartner specially mentions that robots and drones alone could replace one third of the workers globally by 2025.

If we combine both these leading indicators, we get --- “Keep raising the bar on robotic automation”. It is high time to re-consider embracing change – not only for ourselves but more importantly for our kids/ next generation. Spending on robots worldwide is expected to jump from just over $15 billion in 2010 to about $67 billion by 2025 (source:- International federation of robotics, Japan robot association).

What are some of the areas that may be disrupted through robotics trends:

robot

  1. Apple supplier Foxconn has launched an initiative to replace millions of workers with robots in the production lines for iPad and iPhones. Robots can work long hours as against the humans without the need for breaks for food & bathroom, heating, air conditioning, food or supervision.
  2. Google cars are the best example on how with better & miniature sensors, higher computing power, additional AI (artificial intelligence), robotic technology has started to drive cars as against just manufacturing them.
  3. One of the robots extended its arm and rang the NASDAQ closing bell couple of years back.
  4. Magnetic microbots (a group of tiny robots) used in various operations, such as removing plaque from a patient's arteries or helping with ocular conditions and disease screenings.
  5. Amazon.com, the world’s largest online retailer, paid $775 million in cash in 2012 to buy Kiva Systems, which makes warehouse robots. Small, fast, and flexible, these robots are constantly in action, moving large merchandise lots from shelves to the packing and shipping areas. The move has helped Amazon maintain its low-cost advantage and stay a step ahead of the competition by providing a key advantage: the ability to offer one- and two-day guaranteed delivery for a wide range of goods.
  6. In July 2015, the Henn-na hotel staffed by 80 robots and just 10 humans supervising security and cleaning opened in Nagasaki. Apart from the traditional usage, some new areas in taking care of elderly people living alone is the next big thing catching up.
  7. Robots at Sweden-based Charkman Group, slice and pack high volumes of salami, ham, turkey, rolled pork, and other cooked meats. An intelligent portion-loading robot that can handle 150 picks per minute across multiple sizes and types of meat.
  8. From simple usage to unburden military members to carry their gears or identification & diffusing of land mines or monitoring videos and audios and raise alerts for any suspicious activities, the potential use case scenarios in law enforcement, disaster relief are immense. US defense has been using stealth drones in countries like Iran, Pakistan for several years.
  9. Don’t be surprised……Chinese manufacturing company is already developing and plans to roll out over 1000 “robo-chefs” for restaurants & cafeterias.
  10. Movies like Gravity have used robots to create special effects in outer space.
  11. Agricultural robots, or agbots, are being designed to pick fruit and vegetables, to minimize harvest time pressures, and to prepare for the day when labor laws make it tougher to get large numbers of migrant workers to help with harvesting.
  12. Services – From the current usage (around welding, cutting, grinding, polishing, drilling, sanding, painting, assembly, spraying etc.) to many more.
  13. Scientific research –Capture images/videos of lions or anacondas or sharks and help in better understanding. UBR-1 arm robots with its advanced platform are used in several applications even outside research. Korea used unmanned robots to control population of jelly-fish by identification & removal.  
  14. Programing – Potentially even the software programs being written by humans can be done by robots.
  15. Digital business – are less labor intensive and obviously machines can analyze heaps of data much faster than humans.

As is apparent, that this trend is potentially impacting even the jobs which need “brain power”.

Let’s look at some of the key drivers for the up-rise of this trend –

  1. Remain Competitive – Higher productivity, lower costs, consistent & predictable quality to name a few.
  2. Aging population – Robots provide an easy solution to address this. One way demographers measure the economic impact of aging is by the “old-age dependency ratio”: the number of people age 65 and older per 100 working age people (age 15-64). (The higher the number, the more elderly people there are to be supported by younger working adults.) That proportion is rising around the world. By 2050 it will be particularly high in Japan, where the United Nations projects there will be 72 elderly for every 100 working age Japanese, up 36 percentage points from 2010. In neighboring South Korea, the increase may be even greater, up 51 percentage points from 2010 to an old-age dependency ratio of 66 by mid-century.
  3. Mission critical applications which demand exceptional precision, flexibility or speed.
  4. Handle complexity – centrally manage & execute complex logistics across convoluted supply chains and vast supplier networks.
  5. Tasks that humans can’t, won’t or shouldn’t do – Too hazardous, unpleasant or difficult for human beings. Other tasks could be boring and repetitive. Other usage could be to address human skill gaps which robots could do much better like data mining, rapid analysis, super-fast speed or huge strength etc. 

However, it’s a balancing act. While the industrial robotics may replace a lot of the work which humans can do, it certainly creates additional opportunities. Lets’ start thinking & planning for new economies that technology & industrial robotics will create. I would request inputs/views from everyone on this trend and the potential impact. Please stay tuned.


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