The robot revolution is here and it’s what we’ve all been waiting for.
Society has evolved from a Flintstones lifestyle and now we’re ready for the Jetsons lifestyle.
So, where are the robots? Shouldn’t they be here by now? Didn’t they get the memo?
The robots should already be doing chores like cooking meals. We should have custom home-made meals from a diverse multi-cultural menu. The robots should be doing everything from receiving the request via a voice interactive app on a wireless communicator, ordering the ingredients, preparing the meal, serving the meal and finally cleaning up.
The Jetsons aired 30 years ago and gave us great inspiration for new technologies, so where are the robots?
Where are the robots???
While the inspiration from Hollywood is welcomed, it’s also created an inflated expectation of what technology can deliver.
The inflated expectation is soon met with the ‘trough of disillusionment’ when today’s technology doesn’t deliver the expectations promised by Hollywood.
However , on one side of the equation; researchers are creating new technologies that are now capable of meeting Hollywood’s expectations.
On the other side of the equation, manufacturers and customers need to keep believing in the future and embrace change and adopt new technology.
What will happen if you don’t adopt?
Just like the adoption of circular saws over hand saws and e-mail over written mail, resistance is futile. We all need to evolve or die.
If you want to stay just behind the leaders in your industry and are happy to survive and wait for a safe solution, you can adopt new technology eventually and there’s nothing wrong with that.
However, if you want to lead your industry, you need to be involved with the development of new technology.
The disadvantage of not being involved in the development of new technology is that the country that does develop the new technology for your industry may not suit your industries preferences.
Do you think a robot developed in China will meet your businesses needs?
There are no knives in the future.
If we’re to believe in the future of robotics we need to let go of our old ways and adopt new ways.
Consider the process of making buttered toast. How do you think a robot would do it in the future?
Do you think a robot would use a knife? Maybe a robot would spray butter onto the toast?
How do you think the bread and butter is packaged and stored?
Is butter purchased as a liquid or a solid?
Does the robot re-order new bread and butter when the stock is low?
How do we measure quality and give feedback?
Is the slice of bread custom made for each slice to suit individual dietary requirements.
Perhaps the buttered toast is home delivered fresh by a drone.
If the future is home delivery, are there shopping centers in the future and do home’s need kitchens?
While some of these concerns are realistic some may be irrational or irrelevant, or are they?
The problem is, we don’t know what the future holds and we need to be careful which technology we adopt.
Remember when compact discs (CD’s) were the best storage device. The CD is less than 25 years old and it’s already obsolete.
There may be no need to invest in technology to teach a robot open a fridge door, find the butter, retrieve the butter, open the butter and use a knife to spread the butter.
Maybe the future of making buttered toast is using a custom all-in-one vending machine which can make a range of meals to suit everyone’s dietary requirements, serve the meals, clean the dishes and pack them away. It would receive refills via drone delivery without human intervention and be uploaded with new and exciting menus regularly.
As you can see from the simple process of making buttered toast, what seems like a very simple task actually needs all of the parties in the supply chain to be on the same path.
How long do you think it will take for robots to hit 50 million users?
Many professions make robots work.
While robots or any automated machinery may seem very simple, they do need many professional skill-sets.
Robots need programmers, electronics engineers, mechanical engineers, industrial designers, software engineers, electricians, fabricators, network administrators, app developers, artificial intelligence experts and more.
Not only do robots need a lot of professional input, it takes several revisions to get a working solution.
As you can see, robotic development needs a lot of professional people and that doesn’t come cheap.
Each robot needs different professional skill-sets to suit it’s needs.
For example, an autonomous apple picker would need to combine several established technologies. It would be counter intuitive to reinvent existing technologies.
The autonomous apple picker would need a tractor, a sensory feedback system to identify apples and navigate the orchid, and a device to pick the apples.
All of these systems will need to work together and be compatible with future upgrades and multiple applications and attachments.
Therefore robot development will need collaboration and integration across many organisations.
If we expect our robots to be universal and compatible, we also need to talk the same universal language and be compatible.
The robotics development process is neither quick, easy or cheap.
Robots are also like any other machine and require ongoing maintenance and upgrades.
The good news is that a lot of technology has advanced significantly and the robot revolution is waiting for us.
Computer processors are now using computer vision and artificial intelligence to identify objects in real time.
Most software is open source and hardware is very cheap.
There is no reason the robots revolution shouldn’t be happening. The technology is available now.
How do you eat an Elephant?
The best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.
Although the robot technology is ready there’s still the gap of inflated expectation to traverse.
When I worked as an engineer for a large mining company, Salespeople would often ask me to test their new technologies on my site.
While most of my colleagues were reluctant to test new technology on the production line for fear of lost production, I was able to find a way around this risk. My colleagues were missing golden opportunities.
My solution was to install the new technology on similar equipment that was not on the main production line.
We would test the new technology and refine it in a non-productive environment and only move it into the production line when testing was complete.
Using this strategy, we we able to test new technology and have it developed to suit our site and stay ahead of our competitors.
While most new technology fails, some pay off and the opportunity always needs to be explored.
The best way to start your journey in the robot revolution is to start with a low risk task in a non production environment and have the vendor take the development risk.
Who will lead the Robot Revolution
Whether you like it or not, the same way e-mail replaced mail and circular saws replaced hand saws, the robot revolution is happening and eventually everyone will need to adopt new technology or be left behind.
Those who adopt new technology early will have the opportunity to have have the technology developed top suit their needs.
The early adopters will also be more comfortable with adopting newer technology as they will be familiar with the development process and understand the technologies short comings and opportunities.
The robot revolution will be lead by people who are able to see the long term benefits and able to be flexible with their business systems and adapt to change.
The revolution will be lead by people who are willing to take a small risk and get their foot in the door and explore the opportunity.
The revolution will be lead by people who can talk to their supply chain and make changes upstream and downstream to make the evolution smoother.
The revolution will be lead by people who can collaborate with technology developers are integrate new technology into their existing business systems.
Most importantly, I believe the robot revolution will be lead by those closest to the customer and be able to identify viable market solutions and communicate with their suppliers to create products to suit those market needs.
People who are set in their ways and will not adopt new business methods will be the laggards in the industry. Old ways won’t solve new problems.
Identify an opportunity
Can you think of a problem or opportunity in your industry that is suitable for a robot?
Wherever there’s a problem, there’s a solution very nearby that a robot can do.
Consider breaking the solution into several smaller tasks and solving each task individually.
By doing this, we can take smaller risks, progress is faster and commercial solutions can be implemented sooner for an immediate financial gain to both parties.
In the apple picker example, the tractor and picker could be manually operated, but computer vision and artificial intelligence can used to identify apples in the tree which are ready to be picked, thus saving time, reducing man power and only picking the ripe apples.
Computer vision could also be used to identify issues that an untrained picker may not be looking for, i.e unwanted pests, hazards, and diseases. What benefit does this have to your industry if you could detect issues earlier?
As confidence builds, the process can be automated further, until the entire process is possibly autonomously operated from a remote location.
Propose a Robotics Competition.
A robotics competition is a great way to solve a problem in your industry.
At the Brisbane Robotics Club we co-ordinate robotics competitions for the purpose of making commercially viable robots for any industry.
Teams can compete to solve a problem in an offline environment without causing lost production.
A prototype can be built for a fraction of the cost and can be tested in a realistic environment to meet your specifications.
A competition can attract individuals and businesses which would have been excluded from the conventional development process.
For example, an apple picking robot requires multiple skill-sets and functions. It’s impossible to find all of these skill-sets and functions with one vendor. However, by organizing a competition we can attract multiple developers with varying skill-sets to create the best solution.
A Competition puts the emphasis onto the robotics developers to ensure a working solution is achieved as quick as possible for a minimal outlay of capital and time.
A working robot will be able to demonstrate its function and remove the uncertainty whether the technology is capable of delivering results for your needs.
You only get what you pay for.
Robots may work for free, but their developers and parts aren’t free.
To attract developers there needs to be a financial incentive.
As the time tested cliche says; “You only get what you pay for. If you pay peanuts you’ll get monkeys.”
Once you’ve identified an opportunity, are you able to quantify your financial gain and determine a feasible financial reward.
It’s best to start with a small robotic task. It’s better to have a small robot that returns a benefit than a large robot which has no benefit.
You may choose to consult with your industry colleagues and propose one larger problem to solve.
Commercialization of a Robotics Solution.
Once a robotics solution is found using a robotics competition, the prototype needs to be commercialized.
This not only includes developing a working robot, but also needs to consider insurance, compliance, safety, on going maintenance, upgrades, licensing, administration costs and so on.
Creating the commercial business arrangement is as important as developing the robot.
There are several commercial solutions to choose…
Solution A. – Adopt a Robot
The clients takes the robotics solution and creates a working model which the client operates, upgrades and maintains.
The downside is the client may not have the expertise to maintain the robot.
Therefore if help is needed, you will need to contract the required help. If the people who created the robot in the competition do not have the correct regulatory requirements (insurance, business structures) you may be left with a robot that doesn’t work.
The people who created the robot may no longer be available to maintain the robot and other experts will need to be sourced. This process could be costly and time consuming and not very good for your businesses production needs.
Solution B. – Contract a Robot
Includes full time support of robot to ensure it works into the future. Commercial contracts are in place to ensure longevity of robot productivity.
Suggest a Competition
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