Advances in robotics is revolutionising a multitude of industries. At the core of this is good design and as approach that should emphasis cooperation, not competition between man and machine. By Mark Johnston
Along with the Internet of Things (IoT) and Additive Manufacturing, advances in robotics is revolutionising the manufacturing sector. Robotics are becoming increasing more intelligent, able to cope better with complexity, and operate on their own with minimal supervision. They are also becoming more collaborative working together with humans as well as in a groups.
Use applications for robots vary greatly. They could be extremely small operating at the cellular level to huge industrial robots in large manufacturing plants. A major area of research is in the area of autonomous robotics, robots that act alone with minimal supervision from a human. Taken one step further are robots that can program themselves and model themselves against any environment, operating optimally under any conditions. Much like how humans have evolved to thrive so to can robots.
Other advancements include how humans interact with their robot helpers. Robots still require some level of programming, but the process has been greatly simplified. It no longer requires specialised training to program a robot, with intuitive design.
This is significant. As the result will be the democratisation of advanced automation, enabling small companies to be able to compete much more significantly with the larger companies. This is primarily because of the falling cost and advances in technology. No longer require advanced skill sets to operate and programme robots. Combine this with the recent advances in additive manufacturing, and it becomes obvious where this transformation is heading.
Making robots less expensive and more accessible it will change not just the competition between nations, but also between companies. More assessable robots and access to additive manufacturing will change very much the dynamic between countries. They will trade different, manufacturing output will no longer depend on who has the greatest number of cheap labour. A world with an abundance of cheap, accessible, easy to programme and use, robots will change the world as we know it.
The automotive sector is a major user of robotics to assemble the vehicles. However, traditionally certain manufacturing tasks could only be performed by humans because of the required agility. That is changing. As robotic technology increases so to does their ability to interact in a more agile fashion with other machines.
Robots, as mentioned, have been designed to collaborate with one another, but this collaboration also extends to the interaction between humans and machines. For instance, safety of the human co-worker might be an issue and so safeguards need to be put in place. The collaborative nature of robots has advanced to a stage where they can work seamlessly with human workers without risk of injury from them. Many robots have different sensor types integrated into their design. Some such sensors include cameras that use machine vision to intelligently recognise co-works and sensors such as sonar, as well as many other sensors that help position a robot in place and make it aware of its surrounds so it can act accordingly.
Other advancements include the ability of some robots to know if an assembly is correct and adjusting if it is not. The more features and abilities that are added to robots the more capable they become at resembling human behaviour and abilities.
This has some economists worried, as such advancements could signal to end to cheap labour and the loss of millions of jobs. However, not everybody believes robots would be a bad thing for the jobless figures. As with like, our role much change and nations must adapt. Employees, and employers must continue to train their staff in the latest technologies in order to take advantage of what these new technologies have to offer.
“A machine capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically, especially one programmable by a computer,” is a typical dictionary definition of a robot. With the advent of drones and other autonomous vehicles we are reaching a point in our culture where machines start to interact with us in our everylife. From the moment we wake up in the morning, to the packages we get delivered to our door, to the ‘help’ we need when it comes to chores. What this will mean for the future workforce and our everyday relationships only time will tell.
One popular design strategy is to study animals and how they interact with their surroundings, then base the design for a robot on that. This may have benefits under certain circumstances, but it should not be the default position. Unlike humans and animals, robots have not evolved to adapt to their surroundings. They were created and imagined by us. They should not be designed to replace us, or the animals we see in everyday nature, but be designed to extend our capabilities. Making it a competition between living organisms and created machines is not the best approach. The design approach should instead be based on cooperation. One that is mutually beneficial.