Is Your New Teammate a Robot?

Your new stainless steel colleague can’t chat about last night’s match but watch out -- he could outrun you in more than one way.

Origin of robotics

Robots certainly aren’t a recent phenomenon – in developed countries, autonomous programmable machines have been in place for decades. With the advances in machinery during the post-industrial evolution era, humans started looking at ways to speed up labour-intensive or repetitive processes with the use of technology. Industrial robots have been used in automating various tasks, like welding, measuring, polishing, or movement of heavy parts in pre-programmed patterns.

Today’s robots

Mechanically, humanoid robots are still very basic and move along with choppy moves, rather than fluid strolling like the one we often see in futuristic films. However, today’s pseudohumans are equipped with sensors, 3D cameras, GPS, gyroscopes and countless other gadgets that make their functions far from basic. They can orientate themselves, map out spaces, measure and make complex calculations and predictions, send alerts as well as a variety of other functions that require high computing power.

A cobot or co-robot = collaborative robot, however, is a robot built to interact with humans in a shared workspace. In contrast with more traditional robots, cobots depend on human supervision and guidance and are meant to augment human operations, not replace them. It’s certainly a less threatening name and model to H2R interactions.

Applications

Robots can be very handy when large amounts of data need to be processed, when a chain of events needs to be triggered, or to monitor and report discrepancies in certain patterns. Aside from the obvious applications in manufacturing, supply chain, and logistics, cobots have been used in the security industry, healthcare, prosthetics and the office.

Robotics in manufacturing

Human to robot collaboration, or the introduction of cobots, is a concept under development that will be applied within manufacturing environments in the near future to increase efficiency and quality but it is not the only environment where such interactions can prove handy.


Streamlining production, which is easily achieved by increasing consistency and reducing error -- essentially adding productive man-hours -- drives output quantity and quality and cuts down on idle time by as much as 85%, according to research done by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It also leaves more time for highly sophisticated or creative tasks best done by humans, which is a positive development any way you look at it.

Robotics in the office

They might not be up to all the latest office gossip but R2D2-lookalikes could become permanent office fixtures in a few years, providing security, delivering supplies from stockrooms, or coding. Robots don’t even have to be mechanical – software cobots will be trained by humans to perform repetitive and rule-based tasks, like QA checks, translation of rules into code, running of scripts, backup, etc. I can’t think of many developers who wouldn’t gladly outsource this to a robotic application and forget all about it.

Looking ahead, the AI that cobots run on as well as their precision and speed certainly need to be improved if we are to fully rely on them in the workplace. However, as our less human coworkers become more versatile and safer to use, our reliance on them will certainly increase. This doesn’t mean humans will have a smaller role – rather, the value of the decisions and tasks that only we can perform, will be illuminated, and ought to be appreciated more, both in altruistic and in monetary terms.

Human – robot competition

Not only can robotic machines enhance accuracy, speed, efficiency, and overall productivity, using them is also safer and, in some cases, less expensive than employing their human counterparts.

Do we need to worry about robots taking our jobs? Not unless you are a production line worker at a manufacturing plant and even then, you might be put in charge of supervising robot operations rather than outright replaced. Without a doubt, we, humans, possess some, eh, human-like qualities that scientists would be hard-pressed to build into robots, including intuition, a helicopter view, morals, subtlety and tact. On the flip side, we aren’t very consistent in terms of process or output. The benefits we can derive from robots don’t typically include enhanced abilities or a superior result. They tend to be superior at consistently following a pattern, nevertheless, and thus, can guarantee predictability, which is essential in industries where thoroughness and a high degree of accuracy are key.

Rather than being threatened by robots and worrying about job security, we can look at their introduction in our workplaces as an opportunity to rid ourselves of boring, manual, repetitive tasks (the so called ‘’dead jobs’’) that are best left to soul-less machines. Humans will always have superior judgment to robots and a wide range of abilities that can’t be automated. However, robots could aid humans by taking care of the mundane processing, while we make decisions based on their work. This unlikely collaboration should essentially lead to more reliable and less error-prone operations, advanced decision making, better judgment and in the end, superior results.

Copywriter: Ina Danova
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