“… you can shine no matter what you are!”
The partial quote comes from the 2005 animated, inspirational movie, Robots. It’s about Rodney Copperbottom, who travels to a Robot City— made out of corks, screws, wheels, and other robotic parts— for a new job developing more mechanical stuff. It must be how the new wave of industry robots feel, well if the new machines were programed to experience human sensations. Nevertheless, the robots are real. And like Rodney Copperbottom, the machines are headed for new jobs—globally, says The Wall Street Journal reporter, James R. Hagerty.
“A new generation of robots is on the way—smarter, more mobile, more collaborative and more adaptable,” Hagerty wrote. “They promise to bring major changes to the factory floor, as well as potentially to the global competitive landscape.”
In the robot movie, the machines all act like humans: partying and flirting with the opposite sex or program. As a matter of fact, there were no real people or animated people in the movie. But the newly-created robotic workforce, which will be shipped to the U.S. and other developing countries, was not created to dance, just to work.
The question is: what kind of work will the robots perform? More importantly, how closely will the machines work with humans or will the new robotic workforce simply take over? The following provides an overview of what you can expect if Copperbottom, the Robot, ends up working for your company.
In the movie, Copperbottom dreams of becoming successful one day.
“Even in a world populated entirely by mechanical beings Rodney Copperbottom is considered a genius inventor,” says an Amazon review. “Rodney dreams of two things, making the world a better place and meeting his idol, the master inventor Bigweld.”
But will the real robots make the world a better place? According to The Wall Street Journal, the machines will transform how products are crafted and increase “the competition between companies and nations.”
“As robots become less costly and more accessible, they should help smaller manufacturers go toe to toe with giants,” says Hagerty. “By reducing labor costs, they also may allow the U.S. and other high-wage countries to get back into some of the processes that have been ceded to China, Mexico and other countries with vast armies of lower-paid workers.”
In fact, the robot workforce was built to rival China, Mexico and other countries’ large populations of low-wage workers—essentially eliminating the need for sweatshops and the overworked and underpaid people, often very young and poor, that they employ. According to The Wall Street Journal, most of the newer designs were created to perform all sorts of duties, including “the tricky job of assembling consumer-electronics items, now mostly done by hand in Asia.”
“Robots are going to change the economic calculus for manufacturing,” Hal Sirkin, a Chicago-based senior partner of Boston Consulting Group, told The Wall Street Journal. “People will spend less time chasing low-cost labor.”
The mechanical workers can also sew a frock together, obviously faster than the average human. So what else can they do?
“At a Renault SA plant in Cleon, France, robots made by Universal Robots AS of Denmark drive screws into engines, especially those that go into places people find hard to get at,” says Hagerty. “The robots employ a reach of more than 50 inches and six rotating joints to do the work.”
But how closely will the machines work with humans or will the robots simply take over?
Fender and Piper Pinwheeler
Instead of landing a job in Robot City, Rodney Copperbottom hooks up with “a group of misfit bots known as the Rusties, led by Fender and Piper Pinwheeler,” according to an Amazon review. And like the movie, the newly-created, global robotic workforce already has plenty of coworkers. And the orders for more keep pouring in to the companies that are producing the robot worker bees.
According to the International Federation of Robots (IFR), the sales of the highly-effective robots have been sky rocketing since 2013 with a 12 percent increase to 178,132 units— making it the most profitable year on record. And Japan, China, the U.S., Korea, and Germany purchased 70 percent of the industrial machines, according to the IFR, to work for the automotive, chemical, rubber and plastics industries. However, it was China that procured an entire legion of robots—becoming the largest owner with a total of 20 percent of the entire line in 2013, according to the IFR.
However, the latest design can work side-by-side with humans as well. Traditionally, the earlier versions that were installed in manufacturing companies were huge and “dangerous to anyone who strays too close to their whirling arms, and limited to one task, like welding, painting or hoisting heavy parts,” says Hagerty.
“The latest models entering factories and being developed in labs are a different breed,” says Hagerty. “They can work alongside humans without endangering them and help assemble all sorts of objects, as large as aircraft engines and as small and delicate as smartphones.”
But the real question is: how much longer will the humans be needed to perform such duties? Martin Ford, author of Rise Of The Robots: Technology and The Threat Of A Jobless Future, told National Geographic, that “we are now at a tipping point where robotics, if not handled right, may trigger mass unemployment and economic collapse.”
So, so much for the incredibly inspiring Rodney Copperbottom and his band of happy-go lucky mechanical friends from Robot City who are apparently stealing jobs behind low-wage workers’ backs.