Class blog for sharing and commenting on current events in biology.

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Robot With a Reassuring Touch

Kylie Kardos                                                                                                                     
September 24, 2012
Core Biology 1 Honors / C-Block, Davies

Current Event Report: A Robot With a Reassuring Touch

Markoff, John. “A Robot With a Reassuring Touch” New York Times Online. 18 Sept 2012.

            Today’s robots are no longer isolated carefully inside glass cages safely and securely from humans. This was done because they were so dangerous, precise, and extremely quick that they could squish flat any human that got in their way. Recently, advancements have allowed for a significant development in the robotic systems. This article concerns creating new robotic technology that is safe to work with humans. The first product of Rethink Robotics, Baxter, a friendly two-armed robot, is evidence that future robots will be safe to work with humans. For example, besides being moderately slow moving and imprecise, Baxter is also fully equipped with a large range of safety mechanisms and sensors in order to protect the human workers it assists. Rodney A. Brooks, the roboticist who founded Rethink, proves Baxter’s safety by placing his head in the range of Baxter’s arm while it transports objects on an assembly line. And if that doesn’t totally convince you of its safety, it also has a computer-screen face that turns red in the presence of workers to let them know it is aware they are nearby. Each is even equipped with a large red “e-stop” button that will cause it to shut down immediately when pressed. Rethink calculates that the new robots can work for the equivalent of $4 an hour performing repetitive tasks for manufacturing lines and assembly.
            This article is important to society because it shows how technology has advanced to the point where we are able to construct robots that can work effectively and efficiently in the same environment as humans and not harm them. I have always been interested in technology, and it is fascinating to me how robots are now sophisticated enough to be put to work, let alone work with humans. I chose this article because it stood out to me the most - I couldn’t wait to read it.
            This article was really well written and descriptive. An important point that the author emphasizes is that employees whose tedious tasks are done by robots are not going to be laid off. Instead, these employees are going to be assigned to jobs that call for higher ability, such as training the robots for working on manufacturing lines. Also interesting is a statement made by Mr. Movellan, director of the Machine Perception Laboratory at the University of California, San Diego, “For humans it is very difficult to repeat the same movement twice. If they grasp an object, they will do it differently each time.” This shows how robots are perfect for working on assembly and manufacturing lines, as they are able to replicate the same movements infinite numbers of times - something humans cannot do. This article also compares this new robotic technology to Apple products. For example, Tony Fadell, the former Apple executive who oversaw the development of the iPod and iPhone states, “It feels like a true Macintosh moment for the robot world.” I wish that the author, John Markoff, had included more points about how this new technology was developed, instead of focusing on points about how these robots will be able to safely work with humans. I wanted to learn more about how these robots were created, and the process of designing them and how long it took. Otherwise, this article is a good read, and left me wanting to learn more about this amazing technology.


  1. I think that Kylie summed up this article very well. I thought that it was very interesting how robots might be able to replace humans in factories someday because it gives people a better chance to get a job that requires them to do more skillful jobs. I think this new technology will be a good thing because I'm sure that people get tired of doing one repetitive task all day so this robot will really be helping people.

  2. Kylie Kardos wrote her current events report on the article, "A Robot With a Reassuring Touch." Overall, she did a great job summarizing, analyzing, and explaining the text. In my opinion, Kylie's summary is very well presented. Her description of this new robotic technology is clear, concise, and easy to follow. I liked that Kylie not only talked about the robot’s functions, but also thoroughly explained its other important aspects, such as its many safety mechanisms. In explaining these safety mechanisms, Kylie gave an example of how the founder of Rethink, the robot’s company, was able to place his head in the robot’s range while it was working and not be harmed. Another thing I liked is how Kylie provides a quote in her last paragraph from Mr. Movellan, the director of the Machine Perception Laboratory at the University of California, San Diego. Taking a step further from just providing a quote, Kylie goes the extra mile of explaining the significance of the statement. Another thing Kylie succeeded in doing was including why she chose this article to write about. I found the whole concept of a robot that can work efficiently alongside humans quite interesting. Everything about this recent technology was new to me, and I definitely learned a lot from Kylie’s report. I was glad she mentioned that the robot would not replace workers, but would just take over the tedious, menial tasks. The employees who had previously done such jobs would be upgraded to work that called for higher ability. I was very worried that the creation of the robot would result in many people being laid off, so this piece of information reassured me. There is little I would change about Kylie’s review. However, I do think she could have brought up the fact that the robot does not need to be programmed but can be trained through demonstration. This, I feel, is an important feature of the robot. Despite this, Kylie’s report was definitely a success.

  3. I thought that Kylie Kardos’s review on the article “A Robot with a Reassuring Touch” was well presented and emphasized on the main points. I thought that she did a great job summarizing, in the actual article the author talks about a lot more things in details with many quotes and research facts. These are not necessary to summarize the article and Kylie did a good job realizing what the main ideas were. This review, in general, is well written; it is not full of distracting grammatical or spelling errors, allowing the reader to really focus on what it is saying. She also spent time not just talking about the robots in general but mentioning the affect they have on society and the benefits that they bring to factories. I have read articles about the development of robots before but this article and review mentioned things I hadn’t realized. For example, Kylie for part of her review, focused on how these robots are so well equipped and adapted that they are allowed to work with people. I found it interesting to read about all of the safety precautions going onto these robots. For instance, the robot alerts people nearby when it knows they are there by its face turning red. The robots also have emergency shut down buttons that allow anyone to shut down the robot in case of an emergency. The idea that robots are becoming a large roll in the human life is completely new to me. You watch in movies all the time about robots taking over and now that robots are becoming a serious thing you wonder if those fictional stories could become true. I thought this review was really good. The only thing I would improve upon is talking more about what the review writer took away from this article and if she thinks robots have a good or bad affect on society. I feel like that would be a good point to add because it relates to this technologies connection in our society, what people think about them affects the future of these robots, opinion is everything.

  4. Kylie Kardos’s review on the article “A Robot with a Reassuring Touch” was very interesting and well presented. When I saw the title, I was curious to learn about what the article was about and found the results very fascinating. Scientists have greatly progressed their technology over the years and changed the way we go through our daily lives. The robot Kylie talked about in her review has definitely intrigued me and I would like to know more about it. As of now, the robot is pronounced safe to work with humans and that only shows how much scientists have improved the technology over time. The robots are designed to do simple tasks for a long period of time, jobs that people get tired of doing after a while. I was glad to see that she mentioned that the robots would not replace workers, but would just take over the tiresome, insignificant tasks instead. The employees who had previously done such jobs would be upgraded to work that called for higher ability. And the thought is comforting that now people can find jobs that they really want to do instead of doing the minor jobs that no one really wants to do. In part of the review, Kylie talked about the way Robots have been adapted and equipped more and more over time to ensure better safety for the humans working with it. They even have a built in modification that makes a red light go off on the robot, signaling that it acknowledges the people close by to it. I wouldn’t change much about this review; I only would have explained more in detail about what scientists plan to do with these newly advanced robots and technology. However, overall I think Kylie did a very well put together review of her article.