At the RoboUniverse expo in New York City, robots of all shapes and sizes were being put to work. Companies showed off automated machines designed to perform tasks that many humans would consider less than desirable.
“There are certain tasks in our society… that will stay on and not be attractive for humans to do. And we cannot get rid of them if we want to live our lives in the usual fashion,” said Preben Hjørnet, founder and CEO of robotics startup Blue Workforce.
“Robots have no conscience, no self-awareness, so they’ll never be social,” Hjørnet added, “But they don’t need to, to make a service for us.”
What robots lack in personality they make up for in productivity, freeing employees from some of the more tedious aspects of work. Tom Moolayil, a technical manager at Universal Robots noted, “Doing a repetitive, mundane task over and over again, I don’t think that’s a job any person should be doing even for a day, and a lot of these companies, even they see there’s a huge turnover rate.”
A safer workplace
Luckily, robots are experts at repetitive tasks. New developments have also made them more safe. Moolayil demonstrated how an accidental fall by an employee onto a moving robot would automatically trigger the robot to stop. The safety consideration is important in places like car factories, where human workers and robots work side-by-side.
Over at Transcend Robotics’ booth, the ARTI3 Vantage was being demonstrated. Able to climb stairs and traverse uneven terrain, the robot is ideally suited for jobs like exploring mines and defusing bombs.
“This technology is meant to really save lives,” said Chief Marketing Officer Alvin Wong. “You can actually survey a hazardous environment before bringing a human into that area,” he added. Pan-tilt-zoom cameras are included on the Vantage, and it can sustain up to 13.6 kilograms.
While the notion of robots taking jobs away from humans remains a popular concern, company representatives emphasized a more cooperative future. “Police officers, military, they look at robotics as their partner at the end of the day,” said Wong. “It’s a collaborative type of working environment.”
Robots are also assisting the disabled. Whill, an autonomous personal mobility device shown at the expo, can follow pre-programmed routes. Representatives at 5D Robotics, the company behind Whill’s navigation technology, said its possibilities for other industries are unlimited.
“It’s really about automation for everything and anything, so any ground vehicle, any air vehicle,” said Phil Mann, the chief marketing officer at 5D. “In an industrial application, it’s just more efficient - I got forklifts on a yard and I want them to move from point A to get them onto a truck, so the truck can then take them to other customers,” he added.
When it comes to work, your future co-workers may very well end up being robots. And ideally, they’ll make the work day go by faster. ”Robotics at work is automation you don’t even notice,” said Mann.