Tags: robot | manufacturing | jobs | assembly

Fiscal Times: Rise of the Job-Eating Robots

By John Morgan   |   Friday, 22 Mar 2013 09:08 AM

A U.S. manufacturing revival may well be under way, but the falling cost of robots and their rapid introduction means it could be a jobless boom, according to the Fiscal Times.

The Times said many small to mid-sized manufacturers put their orders in for a new $27,000 model from Rethink Robotics when it came onto the market last fall. The model actually does assembly line work.

“It’s getting to the last part of manufacturing, which is the final assembly — the part that takes a lot of dexterity and hand-eye coordination, which has so far have been the more protected job that couldn’t be done by heavy, industrial strength robots,” said Martin Ford, a robotics expert and author.

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“Now robots are moving into that last mile and doing assembly-level work.”

There are about 300,000 small and medium-sized manufacturers in the United States that such robots could appeal to, according to the Times, including plastics factories, metal parts makers and consumer goods packagers.

What makes the Rethink Robotics model, dubbed “Baxter,” different from the models before him is that he can work side by side with humans, takes only 10 to 15 minutes to train to do new tasks, does not require a high-level engineer for reprogramming and he’s cheap — only half the price of the least expensive industrial robots, which cost $50,000 to $$200,000 each.

According to a 2012 McKinsey report, from 2000 to 2010 manufacturing contributed 20 percent of the growth in global economic output; however, during the same period, advanced nations lost 24 percent of their manufacturing work force.

Since 2000, the United States has eliminated almost a third of the manufacturing work force, or nearly 6 million factory jobs, the Times said.

“As a society, we have an obligation to educate the kids who are in school now and retrain people already in the work force, so they can contribute effectively to the new economy,” said Seth Teller, a robotics researcher at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab.

“To just do technical innovation and not have massive resources going to improving skills is a mistake, and it’s a mistake that we seem to be making now.”

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has funded a project to develop a robot that can be designed and made and in few hours using advances in 3D technology, science news site Red Orbit reported.

“It would remove barriers and allow the average person to create and customize his or her own robot to meet his or her specific needs,” said Ralph Wachter, an NSF program director. “This opens the door to great possibilities in diverse fields spanning healthcare, energy and transportation.”

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