Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Robots Will Still Need Humans In Factories Of The Future

Posted by Tom Foremski - July 21, 2015

BerkeleyRobots

Above, modeling uncertainty in human-robot interaction at UC Berkeley.

The good news is that humans will still be needed in the factory of the future; the bad news is that humans will still be needed in the factory of the future. A report from Intel Free Press:

By Intel Free Press

Contrary to what you may see at the movies, robots will not come to rule the world any time soon, experts say. Ken Goldberg, University of California, Berkeley professor of industrial engineering and operations research, and Otherlab CEO Saul Griffith, spoke at an event on factories of the future: “Bold Bets: Tomorrow’s Industrial Entrepreneurship.” 

“Machines are very good at lots of things: precision, repetition. But they are extremely bad at any type of creativity or insights,” said Goldberg.

Intuition, something humans take for granted but machines simply cannot learn on their own yet, is important. And future automation systems need to be able to understand when to call for help when faced with a decision.

“Machines are overweight, blind, stupid, slow and weak,” said Griffith.

Humanoid robots have many huge components, cannot truly see what they are doing, only do what they are told (like playing back a prerecorded macro), and for the amount of power they demand, are much slower and weaker than their human counterparts.

It takes a human about 100 or 200 watts of power to lift 30 pounds; it takes an industrial robot about 10 kilowatts to do the same action. Griffith says these limitations need to be optimized if we are to truly have mobile and smarter robots.

University risk-takers

While some may be funded by corporations, these types of innovations largely emerge from academic environments. “Universities are well-setup to [take risks],” explained Goldberg. “The tenure system and various approaches, let you take a chance to do something that may fail. Industry is different; there you can fail and you can lose your life savings or lose your job. Here in the university…you can take all kinds of chances.”

Griffith says that universities could be even riskier and bolder if there was more money available to invest in projects. 

“There has to be a very close ecosystem, relationships and collaboration between the researchers and the academic community and the people who do more of applied research inside the industrial complex,”  said Eric Benhamou, founder of Benhamou Global Ventures and former CEO of 3Com.

From mass to custom production…

Certain tasks that require intricacies and precision beyond a human’s means, such as computer chip production, are where machines excel. Even then, automated chip factories could see a shift.

Former Intel CTO Justin Rattner believes the factories and fabrication facilities of the future will evolve to shift from massive scales of single production units to more customized production in smaller volumes.

“There are certain things that require an economy of scale,” said Rattner. “We are very likely to see chip factories that shift from making a few designs at very high volume to make hundreds or thousands of designs in low volume.”

“The most important thing is that people have to think less about invention and more about innovation…getting the idea to a form where a product organization can engage and turn that thing into something you can sell.”

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