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Page last updated: 9/20/2018

Commentary by S.D. Kaehler

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9/15/18: This month's meeting had a lighter turnout but was still a great group. About 30 people showed up on a nice Saturday to talk about robots. The meeting started a little late (I got distracted) but moved along once we got going.

Keep working on your robots. Work on robots to compete in Robothon, just two weeks away. We set up for SRS Pop Can Challenge this month to provide opportunities for competitors.

Take a look at the new "Special Events" page just added to capture events of interest to SRS members. It will have links to specific events as well as online calendars. Please let me know if there are items to be added.

We started off with this video about some really amazing robots made by companies like Festo and Boston Dynamics called "10 Amazing Robots that Really Exist".

Let me know if the Useful Links page is useful and if it's missing anything important. Robothon T-Shirts will be available at Robothon for $25. SRS Polo shirts are now available at meetings for $30 (card, cash, or check). See Steve K., Lloyd M., or Carol H. during the break or after the meeting.

I've posted Encoder articles from 1991 to 1995 on the Encoder article page. They provide a fascinating look at the history of the SRS, how robotic technology has evolved, and some timeless tips that are as useful today as they were 20+ years ago. Please take some time to read them. I don't think you'll be disappointed. More articles are coming soon.

Round-the-Room

Meeting Pictures on Google Photos.

Feature Presentation

WILL ROBOTS TAKE AWAY OUR JOBS? - This month’s presentation consisted of an open forum discussion on robots and our jobs. The title is kind of a trick question because the answer depends on who you talk to and what they know about the capabilities of robots and automation, including artificial intelligence (AI). Yes, robots (and/or AI/automation) will certainly displace human workers’ jobs. This is nothing new. It’s been happening in various forms since the Industrial Revolution. This video presents a pretty good story about both sides of this issue and served as a launchpad for our discussion.

You’ve all probably seen jobs go away during your working careers, but that doesn’t mean the end of the world has come. We are surrounded by automation and have been for most of our lives. Consider our smartphones that have become like an extension of our arms, providing instant answers to any question we can imagine. We have become very dependent on this and lots of other technology. A lot of it is welcome and even indispensable and as the use of robots and technology expands, it will encompass more and more tasks that surround us. But when it comes to work, most of us will have to learn new skills in order to stay relevant and employed. We will have to adapt to changing work environments. It’s really not possible to do the exact same job the same way for one’s entire career anymore. Times change, jobs change, and so people must change. But not all change is good. Consider this job interview.

I have worked for Boeing for over thirty years as an Instrumentation Engineer. My job has always been to “measure things”. I set up data acquisition systems connected to sensors and gather performance data for various products Boeing makes. In one sense I have been doing “the same job” for over thirty years, BUT the way I do my job has changed drastically over that time. Fewer people are needed and computers and advances in sensor and data acquisition technology have changed the way all this is accomplished. Test setups are vastly different than they used to be, usually way more complex than ever before. Test systems are also more complex and sophisticated than ever before. The amount of data collected can be staggering, even overwhelming to humans. Analysis must be done electronically because people simply can’t process so much data. However, I have often wished for simpler times when the technology breaks.

In our rapidly changing world, re-education is becoming a more and more important part of people’s lives whether one likes it or not. New skills are needed and will be needed as jobs are taken over by automation. The sophistication of jobs increases constantly. The routine, repetitive jobs that many people probably don’t really want to do are the first to go and automation's reach will expand to more and more complex jobs as the technology is able to do so and economics dictates.

Robots can already do lots of things for us. We use robots for doing things that are too dangerous for people. They can go places we can’t easily travel to like deep in the ocean or far out into space, and even land on other planets and explore them for weeks, months, or years. They do tedious, repetitive jobs like welding car bodies. They can also assemble electronic circuit boards though many people also do this in other countries. They can clean and vacuum homes and buildings, scrub floors, paint, lay bricks, and lots of other jpbs still done by people. Many of these are jobs are done by people but could be done by robots. The economics of employing robots instead of people will likely decide whether these jobs will be automated.

Imagine: One day we may walk into a restaurant and be seated by a robotic greeter. A robot waiter will take our order and instantly pass it on to a robot cook, no written instructions necessary. The food will probably be ready very quickly since there’s no delay between ordering and the cook receiving it and no errors unless the robot waiter mis-understands us (good chance of this). The food will be delivered by a robot server or on a conveyor belt. Direct any complaints at the video screen at your table. The robot staff will certain sympathize with you. Behind the scenes, the raw food would come from robotic farms and be delivered by autonomous trucks. The sophistication of the machinery required to do even a small part of all this is mind-boggling not to mention extraordinarily expensive. The reliability of such a system is yet to be seen .There are many inefficiencies in this scenario and for all we know things may look entirely different in real life. It’s easy to imagine familiar jobs replaced by robots. How do we know that robotic restaurants will look anything like they look today?

Something we didn’t discuss during the meeting was what to do about folks who really aren’t able to handle more complex jobs, who can’t make it in college, who don’t have the mental wherewithal to adapt by learning new technical skills. It is estimated that about 10% of the US workforce falls into this category. A totally autonomous future may pose a significant risk to these people. Something to keep in mind though is that replacing people with machines still costs money and will only happen if someone believes that it’s worth the return on investment. There an a lot of jobs that could be done by robots but probably aren’t worth the cost of the automation at this time. Robots will have to become a lot more capable and a lot cheaper before they take over all the simpler jobs that people are doing now.

STEM programs like FIRST are designed to help interest young people in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and stimulate learning about them by doing building things and solving real problems. These programs have been very successful but not everyone has the drive or energy to do them so they don’t help everyone. Making learning fun and enjoyable has not always been an important priority of the public educational system either. Over the last half dozen decades, many of the practical learning classes like woodshop, metal shop, home economics, auto shop have disappeared due to lack of popularity and funding. Kids aren’t learning practical life skills anymore. We see a significant change in the expectations of many members of the younger segment of our population. In spite of this, people still need to do things that robots might someday handle, but not anytime soon. The application of robotics, AI, and automation will rapidly increase in our lifetimes but don't get too comfortable on the couch expecting a robot to cook, clean, and deliver your dinner just yet. Rosey the Robot isn't "just around the corner".

From Robert K.: Robotic Kitchen 2018. Four MIT Graduates Opened a Restaurant with a Fully Functional Robotic Kitchen

The Workshop

The afternoon workshop was lightly attended but still happened but was shortened due to hosts having to leave.

If you have comments or opinions on this writing, please email me at SeattleRoboticsSociety(at)Gmail.com.

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