We manufacturers know what a robot is and is not - and for all intents and purposes it’s not Data from Star Trek, Luke Skywalker’s sidekick, nor is it an angry AI bot from the new Netflix hit Mitchell’s versus The Machines (Hot Tip: If you have kids this is a must watch family fun film - You’re welcome.)
Are Robots the Answer?
During this unprecedented time of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of our customers, both new and longstanding, have been rethinking how they deploy their employees, and how they utilize process automation to manufacture their products. Mask wearing and social distancing have become the norm for the foreseeable future and guaranteeing the safety of people in their workplace has become a primary concern. With these new pressures as catalysts, our clients are considering automation as a means to space out people on the production floor, with the added benefit of substituting machinery to do mundane tasks so employees can be moved into new roles where they can add more creative value.
Here in Rochester, as we enter the official start of winter, we are experiencing the weather conditions that herald the season of chill: short days, snowy fields, nasty driving conditions, and festive holiday lights that attempt to take our minds off of all that has gone into hibernation.
The introduction of collaborative robots (cobots) in manufacturing has presented some unique safety challenges for production workers, engineers, managers, and safety professionals. In my opinion, cobots represent the ingenuity driven by continual process improvement for sustainable and safe work.
Robots are beginning to show up everywhere. Of all the amazing technical developments that are part of Industry 4.0, the fastest growing sector is robotics. By 2020, over $100 billion a year will be invested in robots and this amount is projected to double every two years.
I recently attended the New York State Manufacturing Conference hosted by the Center for Automation Technologies and Systems (CATS) center at Rensselaer. It was a spirted event attended by participants from a variety of individuals and companies whose primary focus was promoting and advancing technology and manufacturing in New York. Robots and cobots were everywhere. More than 70 organizations were represented from industry, academia, economic development and technology centers.
Robots, and the dream of intelligent working robots have been with us for a very long time. As early as 1495, Leonardo da Vinci designed the first humanoid robot. It was designed to sit up, wave its arms, and move its head via a flexible neck. There were hundreds of other robots designed over the next five hundred years. In 2003 NASA used twin robots as Mars rovers. Robots were used in industry for activities like welding and painting automobiles. But until recently most robots were fairly simple, single application, machines. But it is only because of rapid advances in artificial intelligence that robots are advancing to the potential uses we now visualize. If robots can learn, improve and “think” in ways similar to humans, they can take on a whole new set of challenges. And, as part of this evolution, robots are also taking on uncannily human-like appearances. The future of robots now appears unlimited. A robot recently advanced one step closer to human status, when it was granted citizenship to Saudi Arabia.