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.