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AI Robotics China

Meet iRobot Founder Rodney Brooks's New Industrial Bot, Baxter 188

First time accepted submitter moon_unit2 writes "Technology Review has the scoop on a new industrial robot created by famed robotics researcher Rodney Brooks. The robot, Baxter, is completely safe, extremely adaptable, and ridiculously easy to program. By providing a way to automate simple manufacturing work, it could help make U.S. manufacturers compete with Chinese companies that rely on low-cost human labor. You can see the new robot in action in a related video of the robot in action and Brooks discussing its potential." $22 thousand and shipping next month, goes the story.
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Meet iRobot Founder Rodney Brooks's New Industrial Bot, Baxter

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  • Re:Competition (Score:5, Insightful)

    by houstonbofh ( 602064 ) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @10:22AM (#41373955)

    Options: a) raise the _minimum_ education and skill level

    What? This is not the problem. The problem is in training for jobs where we need people. I know more that a few sales people at the mall with masters degrees... Yet it takes days to get a plumber or A/C repair man.

  • Re:Competition (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MickyTheIdiot ( 1032226 ) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @10:29AM (#41374029) Homepage Journal

    Well.. up comes the problem of coupling university education and job training.

    And add the fact that to the people that are driving all the change in the U.S. right now the only valid job is CEO / other management. Plumbers, good HVAC techs, and electricians are just as valid and needed of a job as CEO. But again... our values are really, really screwed up right now.

  • Re:Competition (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @10:29AM (#41374031) Journal

    I suspect that there are two basic answers:

    1.(the shorter term): So long as robots are capable of only some things, you'll get more jobs for US workers by keeping the factory onshore, partially robotic and partially staffed, than you will by having it leave entirely. Also, the presence of parts of the supply chain tends to have synergistic effects for other parts, especially when quick turnaround is needed, so even if you have an entirely automated factory, you have a better chance that WidgetCorp will keep their engineering office across the street so they can pop in and make revisions quickly, rather than opening up across the street from their factory elsewhere.

    2.(longer term, albeit not necessarily that long, depending on who you are): Yup, robots can do much of what humans can do, often for less than the humans could live a non-miserable existence on. The scope of robotic('robotic' in the broad sense that includes both big industrial arms and pure software agents capable of data-processing tasks of various sorts) capability shows no signs of decreasing. Whether this means that humans are becoming obsolete, or humans are on the verge of getting some well-earned time off is up to us. And, frankly, I'm not inclined to optimism on this one...

  • Re:Fawning Rubbish (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jhoegl ( 638955 ) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @10:30AM (#41374051)
    But I have built up a resistance to Iocane powder.
  • Re:Competition (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MickyTheIdiot ( 1032226 ) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @10:35AM (#41374103) Homepage Journal

    Remember in the Jetsons where George says "These 3 day workweeks are killing me!"

    That is what the view of what this type of tech was supposed to get us... the same living standard with less work. Instead the idea was turned on its ear and a lot of the benefits were kept at the very top.

    I'm all for this type of stuff, but I think society has to figure out ways for this to benefit everyone. In a capitalist society is okay for the people who own the capital to benefit the most, but I don't think that's an excuse to let the rest of the society head towards poverty. When we see that in other countries we tend to call that repression.

  • Re:Competition (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Spiked_Three ( 626260 ) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @10:41AM (#41374161)
    You hit a vital point. Robotic automation is about to explode 10 times what it has already. The only way the US is going to get more competitive is the automate production work with fewer employees. The competition will only respond with the same. There will be a chilling reverse effect on the economy, improve US manufacturing, AND drive up unemployment rates.

    The corporations will not care about the worker, and I'm not convinced it is their job to do so. Profits will be up, investors happy, management has less headaches. This is not the a unique trend either. If you haven't noticed, education, now pushing a thing called STEM is really about just the opposite to what the public thinks it is. There is not a need for more engineers, there is a need to identify and weed out the top engineer without having to hire 3-4 to find the one. He/She will provide more profit to the company than all the others combined.

    Yes, profit has become a refined science, and the group who will suffer the most is Joe Average. What do we do with him, other than let him become Joe Poor?

    Anyhow, I'm not against robotic manufacturing, I just think there is a terrible consequence to it, that is not being discussed or planned for.
  • Re:Competition (Score:4, Insightful)

    by L4t3r4lu5 ( 1216702 ) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @10:59AM (#41374347)
    I can see your point, but I must disagree. I've worked in a bar too, and while it was my place of work, I was expected to be sociable. Fixing printers, however, I was expected to FIX IT NOW YOU'RE COSTING ME MONEY I HAVE IMPORTANT WORK TO DO.

    I should have pointed out that these weren't desktop laser or inkjets, these were professional wide-format plotters, where a failure cost more per minute than I made per hour.
  • by nweaver ( 113078 ) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @11:04AM (#41374405) Homepage

    Yes, its slow (~4-6 pick & place operations per arm per minute), and not very strong (5 lbs max weight) in the current form. These restrictions are probably semi-arbitrary in the name of safety. But thats still enough to be an incredibly big deal in a large number of manufacturing tasks. Also important, its transportable (the base is on wheels), and flexible in learning new tasks, so it doesn't have to do just one thing but starts to approach the flexibility of a minimum wage worker. And for that role, it needs to be safe more than it needs to be quick.

    Lets say it can perform task X at 1/4 the rate of a manufacturing worker. But at $8/hr minimum wage + 20% in additional costs/worker-hour, say $10/hr for a minimum wage worker. So that value is at least $2.50/hr.

    So it pays for itself in 1100 worker-days, compared with a minimum wage worker and only 1 shift a day. At 3 shifts/day, payback is in 1 year!

    Slow is NOT a problem when it is that cheap, that flexible and that safe.

  • Re:Fawning Rubbish (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Beorytis ( 1014777 ) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @12:04PM (#41375163)
    We never learn. We're still involved in a land war in Asia!
  • Re:Competition (Score:4, Insightful)

    by CanHasDIY ( 1672858 ) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @12:20PM (#41375367) Homepage Journal

    You obviously don't look at what they do spend money on.

    Some public school systems are broken, no doubt. There is also no doubt that for at least some of them (D.C. Schools are the example that proves it) lack of money is not the problem.

    Yup, it's a 'fund allocation issue,' certainly.

    Accompanying anecdote: When I was in high school a scant decade ago, the board decided to cut orchestra and ceramics for lack of funding - the same year, they approved an brand new $2,000,000 building for the football/American football teams (pretty much just locker rooms and storage).

    Of course, school boards (and sport parents) support these sort of decisions by claiming that sports bring in money - the part they leave out is that the sports programs are still a net loss, as they tend to cost 1.5 - 3 times as much to operate as they generate in revenue. But, that's not the important part here, the important part is that arts and sciences suffer so that school board members and parents can spend more time watching minors knock each other senseless.

Disks travel in packs.