Category Archives: Robots

New Report Suggests How Communities Can Prepare for Automation

Robots – I read the article “New study shows what your community needs to do to survive the impact of automation” a couple of days ago and it has some interesting ideas on how to approach the impact of automation. The article addressed the report “America at Work: A National Mosaic and Roadmap for Tomorrow” recently published by Walmart.

You might think this is an odd report coming from Walmat, but Walmat is the largest employer in the US with 1.5 million employees. They have already taken an active role in providing employees trainging opportunities.

This report looks at more than 3,000 counties across the US, analyzing their economic, demographic, and educational attainment data. The counties are then assigned into one of eight archetypes. Each archetype has its own set of recommended actions.

Some of the findings:

  • automation isn’t going to completely wipe out most jobs
  • people will need to learn new skills in order to work side by side with machines
  • without retraining workers will be left behind financially and isolated socially
  • few, if any, places will be immune to the impact of automation
  • successful preparation for automation will require communities to take an integrated approach with cooperation across a range of public, private, and nonprofit stakeholders

If you are interested in this topic you may want to download the 44-page PDF of the  Walmart report and read it all.

Finland’s Basic Income Trial Ends with Disappointing Results

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Robots – Offering a Basic Income is one of the ways that many suggest aiding those displaced in the work place by robots.

Finland just finished a two-year Basic Income Trial (see “Finland’s Basic Income Trial Boosts Happiness, but Not Employment“). Their results:

A basic income made recipients happier than they were on unemployment benefits . . . But it did not, as proponents had hoped, make them more likely to work.

While this trial is not the last word on Basic Income, it does not give a lot of home for it being the answer to job loss due to automation.

Robot Delivery to University Students and Faculty

Robots – If you are a student, faculty or staff member at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia your next food order may be delivered by a robot. A joint program between Starship Technologies and the hospitality company Sodexo will provide autonomous delivery to the campus. Anyone on campus can order from Blaze Pizza, Second Stop, Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks (and more soon) through the Starship Deliveries app. Their order will be delivered by one of 25 Starship robots operating on campus.

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Most deliveries take less than 30 minutes and cost the user $2 on top of the price of the food. Orders and payments are handled through the App. The Starship robot can carry up to 20 lbs. This can easily handle up to three pizzas and salads while keeping them warm or cool respectively. The little robot travels at about 4 mph and is only able to deliver to building entrances. Faculty, staff, and students can keep up with news on the delivery program through the @StarshipGMU Twitter account.

These are not the flying drones that were often spoken about a few years ago to make deliveries, but this more practical approach seems to be an incremental step forward in delivery automation. How soon will it be before these, or a similar robot, are making deliveries in your neighborhood?

New Report Predicts Automation Will Increase Jobs

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Robots – A new report “Humans Wanted: Robots Need You” issued by staffing and recruiting firm ManpowerGroup predicts the use of robots and automation will increase the number of jobs. For this report ManpowerGroup surveyed 19,000 employers worldwide for their plans to respond to automation. The results in summary:

  • 87% of the employers (91% in the US) plan to increase or maintain the size of their staff
  • 9% of employers (4% in the US) plan to cut staff
  • of companies in manufacturing and production, 25% predict staffing increases while 20% predict reductions
  • many companies plan to invest in retrain their staff to work with robots and automation
  • 54% of all employess will need significant retraining by 2020
  • areas that will see largest job decrease – Administrative, Office, Finance, and Accounting
  • areas that will see the largest job increase – IT, Manufacturing, Production, Frontline, and Customer-facing

Based on this report the job outlook, at least in the short term, looks positive in light of increased robotics and automation.

The Next Time You Use a Parking Valet it Might Be a Robot

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Robots – We have all used valet parking services at one time or another. Now a robot from Stanley Robotics might just be the one handling your vehicle.

This robot valet has been used at Charles de Gaulle airport in 2017, Lyon Saint-Exupéry airport in 2018, and will operate beginning in August of this year at Gatwick airport in the UK. The parking robot allows users the benefit of curb-side drop off and retrieval of vehicles. For airports and other facilities, the robot can park vehicles much more efficiently since no space is needed between parked vehicles for driver access. This gives about a 50% better utilization of parking space. For instance, in the Gatwick trial, 170 regular parking spots have given way to 270 spots for the robot valet.

The all-electric autonomous robot named ‘Stan’ can handle vehicles up to 3 tons in weight and 6 m in length. Users park in a designated ‘box’, then leave for their trip taking their car keys with them. The robot with a forklift-like arm lifts the vehicle off of its wheels and takes it to a dedicated parking area. Based upon the traveler’s return flight, a robot will retrieve the vehicle and have it waiting in another ‘box’.

Study Shows Robots Becoming​ Less Popular

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Robots – The study “Are robots becoming unpopular? Changes in attitudes towards autonomous robotic systems in Europe” focusing on interviews of the participants was conducted in the European Union between 2012 and 2017. The study examined the changing attitude of the participants toward robots. More than 80,000 participants from 27 different countries were included in the study.

The highlights of the results:

  • Attitudes towards robots became more negative between 2012 and 2017
  • Attitudes towards robots assisting at work showed the strongest negative trend
  • Women with lower education evaluated robots more negatively
  • Countries with a larger share of older citizens evaluated robots more favorably.

The participant’s negative attitudes toward robots seem to correlate with the degree of interaction they have with them. Criticism of robots increased as the participants became more familiar with the robot. This seemed to occur regardless of how ‘human-like’ the robots look.

In the five years of the study, the attitudes of the participants took a definite negative turn. The big question is what is this going to mean in the years ahead? As more and more robots enter the workplace will this attitude change for the better or will the negative feelings continue to increase.

Boeing’s Autonomous Air Taxi Completes First Flight

Robots – Flying cars have been around in science fiction for many years. Now though we are on the verge of having them become part of our everyday lives. That said, don’t expect your next call for Lyft or Uber to be answered by a flying autonomous taxi.

The Boeing autonomous passenger air vehicle (PAV) shown above is just a prototype and so far it has only demonstrated the ability to take off, hover, and land. This is a 30-foot model is all electric and is designed to have a 50-mile range. Boeing NeXt is also working on a larger fully autonomous, electric cargo plane that will be able to carry up to 500 pounds.

Beyond the technical hurdles of building a flying car are the many regulatory issues that stand in their way. Needless to say, it will be a few years before we see these in our sky.

Boeing is not the only company working on flying cars. Among those interested in this market are Aston Martin, Rolls-Royce, Uber, and Toyota. These flying cars are intended to offer a transportation solution that will be able to carry passengers across urban centers where ground transportation would be slow or impractical.

Robot ‘SpotMini’ Dances

Robots – I have continued to be amazed at what Boston Dynamics has been able to do with their robots. While this video of their SpotMini is not a technical marvel, it does show how flexible this robot is. In the video above it is performing to Uptown Funk by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars.

The SpotMini is a quadruped, dog-like robot with a hand-like gripping extension. The SpotMini stands less than a meter (0.84 m) tall and weighs 25 kg (30 kg if you include the arm). The SpotMini is all-electric and can go for about 90 minutes on a charge, depending on what it is doing.  The SpotMini is the quietest robot produced so far by Boston Dynamics.

Amazon Begins Using Robots for Deliveries

amazonsnewau Robots – Well this isn’t the delivery by flying drones that has been talked about. Instead, these robots are ‘cooler sized’ and roll across the sidewalk. These little guys began deliveries in a test neighborhood in Snohomish County outside of Seattle this week.

Amazon calls these guys ‘Scout’. The electric powered autonomous vehicles travel the sidewalks to make their deliveries. They travel at only a walking pace and have the ability to avoid obstacles on the sidewalk. Only six ‘Scouts’ are currently in use. Initially, these delivery bots will be accompanied by Amazon employees. Customers getting a delivery by ‘Scout’ must be home to receive their order. Their effectiveness will be evaluated during the test to see if further deployment is currently practical.

How do you think deliveries by a ‘Scout’ would work in your neighborhood?

Upgraded UBTECH Walker Robot Shown at CES 2019

Robots – I read an article about this robot that was shown at CES 2019 this morning. It is the UBTECH Walker. UBTECH Robotics is a Chinese company which has a variety of robots from hobbyist kits to real service robots. Per their website UBTECH;

Founded in 2012, UBTECH is a global leading AI and humanoid robotic company. UBTECH has successfully developed consumer humanoid robots, robots for business use, and JIMU Robot building kits following breakthroughs made in digital servos, the core part of humanoid robots. In 2018, UBTECH achieved a valuation of USD$5 billion following the single largest funding round ever for an artificial intelligence company, underscoring the company’s technological leadership.

The Walker was first demonstrated at CES 2018 and has undergone significant improvements since then. Their press release for the Walker says:

Walker is your agile smart companion—an intelligent, bipedal humanoid robot that aims to one day be an indispensable part of your family. Standing 4.75 feet (1.45 m) tall and weighing 170 lbs (77 kg), the new version of Walker is more advanced than ever, including arms and hands with the ability to grasp and manipulate objects, a refined torso with improved self-balancing, smooth and stable walking in difficult environments, and multi-modal interaction including voice, vision, and touch. Walker has 36 high-performance actuators and a full range of sensing systems that work together to insure smooth and fast walking.

UBTECH seems to have great plans for the Walker. I wonder how long it will be before we see robots in common usage as depicted in the video above? This isn’t science fiction anymore. Robots like these are coming, it is just a matter of how soon.

You can learn more about UBTECH and their plans in the article “UBTECH Shows Off Massive Upgrades to Walker Humanoid Robot” published by IEEE Spectrum.