There is no question that rapidly advancing robot and AI technology are enabling companies to bring back work previously done overseas, especially in China. At the same time, they are eliminating the need for human involvement in the manufacturing and assembly processes, no matter where the 'manufacturing' takes place.
This excellent "Are Robots Hurting Job Growth?" segment on 60 Minutes explains the accelerating trend along with the benefits and the challenges it's creating. In the end, it may pose more of a severe problem for blue collar workers in China, India, and Asia than it will for their counterparts in 1st World nations, though no one will be able to completely escape its impact.
If I had to make one critical observation about the 60 minutes segment it would be to say that the title, "Are robots hurting job growth?", is misleading. To understand what is really taking place, and the eventual impact on individuals, governments, and societies, we need to take a much deeper, and more focused, approach. Robots, or more specifically 'robotics', is only a tool or technology.
The real 'problem', if we consider it to be a problem, is our focus on ever increasing efficiency and profitability, apparently without regard or a second thought to the impact on the quality of human life in general.
I'm happy to announce that King Kizer, the awesome ROBO-ONE Champion robot created by Nao Maru, has signed up as part of the Robot Japan team for their 2012 U.S. Tour with an exclusive engagement at RoboGames, April 20th-22nd in San Mateo, California.
King Kizer took humanoid robot competition to a totally new level and inspired Japanese robot builders to ramp up their humanoid bots while accomplishing feats of speed, agility, and flexibility that was thought by experts to be impossible just a few years ago. As impressive as it seems, the video below can't begin to communicate how compellingly powerful, fast, and responsive King Kizer is in the ring.
The researchers at Keio University here do some surprising work. They're breaking new ground with user interfaces and communication, both between man and machines, and between people. Their projects usually involve the application of readily available technology in new and different ways.
A good example is the PYGMY robot ring project presented by Masayasu Ogata (Anzai Imai Lab) at the Interaction 2012 Conference held last week in Tokyo.
Perhaps I'm missing something, it happens some times.
A recent article by Mark Brown on the Wired UK website presents the research being pursued by Yale Song and others at MIT exploring the potential to use hand gestures and body positions in a real time aircraft carrier environment to direct unmanned planes on the flight deck.
Their approach, which in some ways is similar to Microsoft's Kinect system, captures and analyzes the deck crew's body and hand motions extremely rapidly and with a high degree of accuracy in order to generate commands that the robotic drone aircraft can understand and respond to.
I've created a playlist (below) with eight videos of the Robot Japan 3 event held January 8, 2012 here in Tokyo. The videos include the final matches and playoffs in both the Middle Weight and Bantam Weight humanoid robot fights, the robot dance performances, and some of the robot demonstrations.
’ROBOT JAPAN 3 Event Videos (Video)’ continues
Iketomu-san, who publishes the great Biped Robot News Japan blog, was able to participate in the 5th KondoLand Multi-Legged Robot Obstacle Race competition held January 8th in Akihabara. The unusual competition features hazards including a large seesaw, moving wall robots that attempt to block or push the competitor off the course, a conveyor belt running against the direction the competitor needs to go, and a swirling whirlpool of styrofoam packing peanuts.
The competition has been going for long enough that some of the builders have started to optimize their robot designs to deliver the best performance over the obstacle course. One that really stood out to me was Amino-san's new TicTac6 robot.