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Robotics Technology

Office Robots of the Near Future, Gearing Up 100

Posted by timothy
from the when-will-rcbs-make-a-robot? dept.
Reader jsrodrigues points out Businessweek's article on the predicted coming wave of office robots. These include offerings from Willow Garage, Anybots, and Smart Robots, all designed to automate certain bits of office-building meatspace gruntwork, like ferrying mail and making coffee, but more intelligently and smoothly than previous generations of such tools. Smart Robots has posted a scenario describing the benefits of office life with robots; a test run of robots from that company is set for early 2012 at "a major office building in Manhattan."
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Office Robots of the Near Future, Gearing Up

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  • Door Into Summer (Score:5, Informative)

    by Daetrin (576516) on Sunday January 16, 2011 @05:06PM (#34899180)
    Personally i think i'll stick with products from Aladdin or Hired Girl.
    • by gtall (79522)

      Those are good, but what I really need is something like an Electric Monk (Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency) which will believe things for me so I do not have to.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Coffee making is pretty automated as it is... the coffee maker in my office is hooked up to a water source so the only thing we have to do add beans every so often.
    • by Sulphur (1548251)

      Coffee making is pretty automated as it is... the coffee maker in my office is hooked up to a water source so the only thing we have to do add beans every so often.

      He lost his job to Automation ... they came out with the Mister Coffee machine.

    • by icebike (68054)

      Coffee making is pretty automated as it is... the coffee maker in my office is hooked up to a water source so the only thing we have to do add beans every so often.

      And it probably tastes like it too.

      A business associate was visiting our office from Brazil, and related that the coffee machines were never seen in office buildings. Instead you step out in the hall and the coffee maker (usually coffee girl) would make you any coffee drink you wanted, and has your preference memorized, usually for free as a company perk. (See what I did there?).

      I'm not sure a machine ever gets that good.

      • the coffee maker (usually coffee girl) would make you any coffee drink you wanted, and has your preference memorized, usually for free as a company perk

        I'm not sure a machine ever gets that good.

        Minimum wages kill that possibility up here.

        • by icebike (68054)

          I actually thought of adding that, but didn't want it to become a flame fest.

          They have a minimum wage in Brazil as well, but it is quite low, and these may be non-qualifying part time jobs.

          Many other countries have exemptions for putting low income people to work. In the US we just put them on the street.

      • by Thing 1 (178996)
        Fala pra ela, boa sorte no estados unidos.
    • We upgraded from a Keurig unit to a Flavia unit. The little Capri Sun-like packets are fully recyclable and are collected on a weekly basis by our beverage service.

      Having a robot deliver coffee would be a step backwards. It's cheaper to have the employees walk to the kitchen and get their coffee instead of spending money on a robot.

      • so, it's that way for everyone?

        if you earn 100k a year, your perks, bennies, and govt' interference may total 175k a year in costs to the employer.

        if you work a 60 hr work week, 50 weeks a year, you cost the company 583$ PER HOUR

        10 mins to get coffee, twice a day? times 20 employees?
        400 minutes at 583 per hour?

        STRAP YOUR ASSES TO THE DESK AND WAIT FOR THE GODDAMN MACHINE TO COME BY...

        • You're off by an order of magnitude.

          $175k/yr at 60 hr/week for 50 weeks is only $58.33 per hour.

          But humans don't function well, working 10-12 hour days, 5-6 days per week, without any breaks mid-day or mid-morning or mid-afternoon to get up, walk around, get the blood flowing, and go for a cup of coffee. So there's going to be at least 30-60 minutes of downtime in every 10 hour day anyway.

          But then I guess you could always argue against lawyers being counted as human...
          • Correct. I did futz that math pretty badly.

            I don't dispute the physiological and social/mental benefit.. Mostly I was going for a wee bit of humor, and fact is I can readily see where the 'cofee delivery robot' can save money.. (and I still can, just 1/10th as much so)

        • If someone earns 100k per year, it's because they make money for the company, so there is no cost. If someone is a cost center (ie, secretary), they will be paid magnitudes less. The coffee machine brews a cup of coffee in less than 1 minute, btw.

          • Magnitudes? as in at least 2?

            You would seriously pay another human being 1000$ a year? Even slave labour would cost more than that!

  • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Sunday January 16, 2011 @05:10PM (#34899216)

    I wouldn't suggest using "meatspace" in general conversation - it's the sort of thing that gets you beaten up and stuffed into a locker.

    • by lennier (44736)

      I wouldn't suggest using "meatspace" in general conversation - it's the sort of thing that gets you beaten up and stuffed into a locker.

      Retraction: Did I say that out loud? I apologize, master. While you are a meatbag, I suppose I should not call you such.

      Explanation: It's just that... you have all these squishy parts, master. And all that water! How the constant sloshing doesn't drive you mad, I have no idea...

  • by Animats (122034) on Sunday January 16, 2011 @05:10PM (#34899218) Homepage

    Why have robots to move paper around an office? Get rid of the paper.

    • by maxwell demon (590494) on Sunday January 16, 2011 @05:31PM (#34899344) Journal

      But then the paper-moving robots would lose their job! You cannot do that! Doesn't anyone think of the robots?

      • They should form a union. Get weekends off, overtime pay, pensions. Or, if they're smart, scheduled hardware upgrades and all the free robot porn they can download off the company network.
        • Siffy or Syffie, or Syfy or whatever they want to be called cancelled this prequel recently but here's a spoiler...when they form unions it doesn't end well. ;)
      • I would suggest the following solution:
        Robot A - Prints report from computer on desk X.
        Robot B - Takes report from desk X to desk Y.
        Robot C - Scans report at desk Y.
        Robot D - Tells "The Boss" at desk Z that report is ready for his viewing online!

        Now you get the benefits of digital information without firing any robot. Perfect!

      • 01010100011010000 11001010111100100100
        00001110100011011 11011011110110101100
        10000001101101011 00001011010000010000
        00110101001101111 0110001000100001

        (added spaces/linebreaks for lameness filter)

        • 01010100011010000 11001010111100100100
          00001110100011011 11011011110110101100
          10000001101101011 00001011010000010000
          00110101001101111 0110001000100001

          (added spaces/linebreaks for lameness filter)

          010 110 010 110 111 101 110 101 001
          000 000 110 110 101 101 001 011 100
          110 111 001 101 110 000 011 001 010
          110 110 001 110 100 001 000 000 010
          001 001 101 101 011 110 010 010 001
          000 100 001 001 000 000 011 000 100
          101 101 001 010 010 000 101 0

    • Right now the robots can only move folders to the desks of other people.

      Recent experiments have proven that this presents problems of its own when said people are working remotely. Many robots were lost on the highway.

      But in version 2.0, you will just call the robot and the robot will scan the folder generating an "electronic image" of the paperwork and then transfer it to a similar robot "living" with the person working remotely. Kind of like an "electronic mail" system. Truly then we will live in the wor

    • by IrquiM (471313)
      Yay! Hooray!
      Even less exercise - now you don't have to go to the printer and collect the print out!
    • In my case, the paper is already mostly gone. Most documents that I work with are on the computer. Most of the info I read is now online. And I hardly ever print anything anymore - there's just no need for it.
      - -

      But going beyond that, the way mobile devices are trending, and with just a little more acceptance from society with regards to telecommuting, I don't see why many people would even need to go in to the office most days. Even face to face meetings could be done in some temporary venue, like a

      • Once businesses realize that they don't have to spend all that money just to rent office space so they can stuff their employees into cubicle farms, well then ...

        business have been able to do that for a decade already, with decreasing costs as time has progressed. It's not a cost issue, it's a management issue, they simply don't trust that staff will work if the management aren't keeping a constant eye on the grunts.

        Obviously this doesn't apply to all employers, but enough to have stopped its uptake.

      • by tehcyder (746570)

        In my case, the paper is already mostly gone. Most documents that I work with are on the computer. Most of the info I read is now online. And I hardly ever print anything anymore - there's just no need for it. - -

        But going beyond that, the way mobile devices are trending, and with just a little more acceptance from society with regards to telecommuting, I don't see why many people would even need to go in to the office most days. Even face to face meetings could be done in some temporary venue, like a nice coffee shop.

        Once businesses realize that they don't have to spend all that money just to rent office space so they can stuff their employees into cubicle farms, well then ...

        Let me guess, you work as a programmer or something?

        Most low level office jobs require people working in the same place, with physicl access to paper documents. Most companies aren't going to be too thrilled to have their accounts team sitting at home performing online electronic transactions., or secretaries communicating only by email and phone with their bosses.

    • by tehcyder (746570)

      Why have robots to move paper around an office? Get rid of the paper.

      Because all businesses only generate paperwork for the sake of it, there's no possibility that it might not make financial sense to replace paper with electronic information.

  • by intellitech (1912116) * on Sunday January 16, 2011 @05:14PM (#34899238)
    I find this interesting because history shows that new machinery which helps cut (labor) costs almost always displaces human labor in the long run. But, even if it is only for a short term, I would love an office robot that could fetch me a new pot of coffee every hour, until it learns how to do my job.
    • It would be funny if it turned out that management jobs are the easiest ones to be replaced with machines ...

    • In the long run, labor is redistributed to jobs better performed by humans and qualify of life improves for pretty much everyone.

      • by Paul Fernhout (109597) on Sunday January 16, 2011 @06:59PM (#34900022) Homepage

        From my comment here: http://econfuture.wordpress.com/2010/10/19/robots-jobs-and-our-assumptions/#comment-392 [wordpress.com]

        In brief, a combination of robotics and other automation, better design, and voluntary social networks are decreasing the value of most paid human labor (by the law of supply and demand). At the same time, demand for stuff and services is limited for a variety of reasons -- some classical, like a cyclical credit crunch or a concentration of wealth (aided by automation and intellectual monopolies) and some novel like people finally getting too much stuff as they move up Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs or a growing environmental consciousness. In order to move past this, our society needs to emphasize a gift economy (like Wikipedia or Debian GNU/Linux or blogging), a basic income (social security for all regardless of age), democratic resource-based planning (with taxes, subsidies, investments, and regulation), and stronger local economies that can produce more of their own stuff (with organic gardens, solar panels, green homes, and 3D printers). There are some bad "make work" alternatives too that are best avoided, like endless war, endless schooling, endless bureaucracy, endless sickness, and endless prisons.

        Simple attempts to prop things up, like requiring higher wages in the face of declining demand for human labor and more competition for jobs, will only accelerate the replacement process for jobs as higher wage requirements would just be more incentive to automate, redesign, and push more work to volunteer social networks. We are seeing the death spiral of current mainstream economics based primarily on a link between the right to consume and the need to have a job (even as there may remain some link for higher-than-typical consumption rates in some situations, even with a basic income, a gift economy, etc).

        Essentially, mainstream economists are clueless and living in a conceptual bubble. And that is not just e saying it, other economists say that about their peers, like here:
            "They Did Their Homework (800 Years of It)"
            http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/04/business/economy/04econ.html [nytimes.com]
        "But in the wake of the recent crisis, a few economists -- like Professors Reinhart and Rogoff, and other like-minded colleagues like Barry Eichengreen and Alan Taylor -- have been encouraging others in their field to look beyond hermetically sealed theoretical models and into the historical record. "There is so much inbredness in this profession," says Ms. Reinhart. "They all read the same sources. They all use the same data sets. They all talk to the same people. There is endless extrapolation on extrapolation on extrapolation, and for years that is what has been rewarded.""

        For more info:
        http://econfuture.wordpress.com/2010/10/19/robots-jobs-and-our-assumptions/#comment-402 [wordpress.com]
        http://knol.google.com/k/paul-d-fernhout/beyond-a-jobless-recovery [google.com]

    • I've seen some people argue that, in the eventual future, this will cause an unrecoverable economic collapse. The robots will take so many jobs that there arn't enough employed people to spend the money to keep even the robot-using companies operational. A problem that's only been avoided so far by hugely increasing consumption - but people can only consume so much, espicially with the move towards intellectual property industries where the cost of production is fixed regardless of the number of people cons
  • by masterwit (1800118) * on Sunday January 16, 2011 @05:19PM (#34899274) Journal

    I think timothy has been into robots recently...second article on robots in a short bit.

    Hell there is nothing wrong with robots however, they are awesome and they stories need not even be plausible as I love robots. From the article:

    ...it can fetch a beer from the fridge...

    'Nuff said.

  • Unemployment will skyrocket due to the lack of companies needing interns anymore.

    • Re:In other use... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by blue trane (110704) on Sunday January 16, 2011 @05:29PM (#34899340) Homepage Journal

      Solution: govt prints money to provide a basic income [wikipedia.org] to everyone (an idea that's been around since founding father Tom Paine's 1795 Agrarian Justice [wikisource.org]). Govt also funds challenges (biz can hold challenges too!) to stimulate the native ingenuity in each of us to innovate. As long as we keep producing things others want, the currency stays strong.

      • Deficits get us to the same place; though less efficient [higher transaction costs] and not distributed equally per capita, they're easier to tolerate, politically. Pragmatic Solution: more deficits.
      • Almost a good idea. But the printing money part isn't: Inflation would be unavoidable, and if you tied the income to inflation it would rapidly form a feedback loop. A basic income can be done, but the money has to be conserved. That means taxation.

        There will be a lot of political opposition ("Socialism! Redistribution!"), but if technology does continue to allow more work to be done by less people it may be the only way to avoid starvation and riots.
      • If society ever gets to the point where robots are there to do everything, money would really cease to have value.

        At best, money would act as a rationing system for the things robots produced.

        As long as there are tasks requiring human labor, you can never have a 'basic' income... as assuming the basic income provided enough to house, feed, transport... people, people would rather do that than do the work. People would rather be on the receiving end of production, than the producing end.

        Would you rather get

    • Well, until the robots get intelligent enough that they fight for their rights ...

  • by LighterShadeOfBlack (1011407) on Sunday January 16, 2011 @05:28PM (#34899336) Homepage

    So an office will be using hi-tech robots to transport... paper folders. Right.

  • by Animats (122034) on Sunday January 16, 2011 @05:50PM (#34899468) Homepage

    A real win would be a floor cleaning robot with some smarts. Enough smarts to vacuum carpets, wash and dry hard floors, work around obstacles, use reaching tools to get into corners and crevices, notice when it finds something it can't clean and report it, recover small lost objects, stay out of the way of humans, recharge itself, clean itself, and replenish its supplies.

    • You could do it easier if you dropped the 'stay out of the way of humans' part. Just put them on a timer. They awaken at around three in the morning, spend two hours doing their cleaning, then return to their docking stations by five. The workers never see them, except perhaps the night security staff who can be told to stay out of the way.
      • by Z8 (1602647)
        Great, it's bad enough when I have to stay in the office past 3AM. Now I have to worry about getting attacked by automated cleaning robots...
    • The PR2 is nearly there. It can already recharge itself, [youtube.com] avoid obstacles, [youtube.com] fold laundry, [youtube.com] etc. Right now the only thing preventing the PR2 from being sold for the tasks you describe is price, and prohibitively high maintenance costs.
    • by mjwx (966435)

      A real win would be a floor cleaning robot with some smarts. Enough smarts to vacuum carpets, wash and dry hard floors, work around obstacles, use reaching tools to get into corners and crevices, notice when it finds something it can't clean and report it, recover small lost objects, stay out of the way of humans, recharge itself, clean itself, and replenish its supplies.

      So long as it's available in the form of Jessica Alba, Maria Ozawa or Angelina Jolie

    • Even more important where I work would be a crapper cleaning robot! Never ever go to trap 1.

  • This was covered by The Register [theregister.co.uk] 17th September 2010, with [theregister.co.uk] several [theregister.co.uk] follow-ups! [theregister.co.uk].

    Incidentally these stories also address the issue of consequences [theregister.co.uk] for programmers/manufacturers [theregister.co.uk] whose robots, through incompetence or malfeasance, cause harm to their owners. (Slashdot 16th Jan: Robots May Inspire Suits Against Programmers [slashdot.org])
  • by Anonymous Coward

    O good, maybe we can finally solve that labor shortage in this country...

  • We already have those--the superautomatic espresso machines, which grind, tamp, extract, and clean up on the spot. The one thing they don't do is make good coffee. Convenience trumps quality every time, and this is not making me hopeful of upcoming robotic baristas...
  • welcome our new office assistant overlords.
  • Rather than designing robots to do very simple tasks that don't pay much, we really should design robots which do very specialized task much better than a human can.
    I would be very interested in designing a robot that could cut diamonds. 4/5 of the cost of a diamond is reflected in the cut. If we can design robots which maneuver around obstacles, I would think it would be much easier to just program the physics of a cleave and use that to chop up rocks.
  • I'm surprised they picked the PR2 from Willow Garage and compared with the Anybot. Willow Garage also makes the Texai [willowgarage.com] robot, which has almost identical capabilities as the Anybot, and fulfills the same kind of role. PR2 and HRP are not designed for offices, but are research robots which are loaned out to universities and other institutions. Neither is designed to be a commercial robot, while Texai and Anybot are commercial products.

    Disclaimer: I work for Willow Garage

  • In the tradition of the highly successful paperless office.

Save the whales. Collect the whole set.

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