The ‘factory of the future’ will require massive investments in skills and data

I contributed — as a subcontractor to Lundberg Media — to a new report from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services about the deployment of technology and data to front-line workers in the manufacturing sector (“The Factory of the Future: Manufacturers Invest in Data and Skills to Achieve Efficiency Goals,” free PDF to download).

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In a recent survey, 78% of respondents strongly agreed with the statement “To be successful in the future, our organization must connect and empower its [front-line] workers with technology and information.” In the manufacturing sector, those workers are what one IT leader called “the deskless people.” They include the salespeople who deal directly with the customer; the employees operating machinery, making products, and keeping the processes running on the factory floor; and technicians out in the field servicing the manufacturer’s equipment at the customer site.

But the barriers to implementing this vision of automation — whether that’s mobile apps or augmented reality, for example — are many: the cost of deploying digital technologies to a broader employee base; a lack of effective change management and adoption processes; and a lack of workforce skills. Current workers need retraining. And they need secure, integrated, and trustworthy data to make decisions.

Pundits say the future of manufacturing involves more robots, sensors and mixed reality. But that will only happen if there’s a massive, comprehensive investment in technology, data and skills.

 

Future shocks: Killer robots, hyperaging, space tourism, intelligent cars, resource wars

The Washington Post Outlook section (4 January 2009) is full of articles under the label “future shocks.” A sampling:

The world won’t be aging gracefully. “For the world’s wealthy nations, the 2020s are set to be a decade of hyperaging and population decline. Many countries will experience fiscal crisis, economic stagnation and ugly political battles over entitlements and immigration. Meanwhile, poor countries will be buffeted by their own demographic storms. Some will be overwhelmed by massive age waves that they can’t afford, while others will be whipsawed by new explosions of youth whose aspirations they cannot satisfy. The risk of social and political upheaval and military aggression will grow throughout the developing world — even as the developed world’s capacity to deal with these threats weakens. The rich countries have been aging for decades, due to falling birthrates and rising life spans. But in the 2020s, this aging will get an extra kick as large postwar baby boom generations move into retirement.” — Neil Howe and Richard Jackson are researchers at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and co-authors of “The Graying of the Great Powers: Demography and Geopolitics in the 21st Century.”

Coming to the battlefield: Stone-cold robot killers.Armed robots will all be snipers. Stone-cold killers, every one of them. They will aim with inhuman precision and fire without human hesitation. They will not need bonuses to enlist or housing for their families or expensive training ranges or retirement payments.” — John Pike is the director of the military information Web site GlobalSecurity.org.

The next big things:

  • Space tourism in 2012 (+/- 2 years) >>>>

    Spaceship for space tourism
    Spaceship for space tourism
  • Intelligent cars in 2014 (+/- 4 years)
  • Telemedicine in 2015 (+/- 4 years)
  • Thought power (brain signals controlling systems) in 2020 (+/- 9 years)
  • Artificial intelligence in 2021 (+/- 7 years)
  • Smart robots in 2022 (+/- 7 years)
  • Alternative energy in 2022 (+/- 9 years)
  • Cancer cure in 2024 (+/- 8 years)

William E. Halal, president of TechCast LLC

Global warming could lead to warfare over scarce resources (e.g., arable land and fresh water); mass migrations; and territorial disputes over newly available energy resources (e.g. Arctic oil). — James R. Lee runs American University’s Inventory of Conflict and Environment project. He’s at work on a book on climate change and conflict.

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Related:

‘Bad Roomba, Bad Roomba’

In some households, Fido is attacking the family’s Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner, according to an article headlined “When Dogs and Robots Collide, Somebody Needs a Talking To.” Real attacks, with barking, snarling, teeth marks and everything. Perhaps it’s a territorial thing. It’s an example of how we still have some kinks to work out in the colocation of robots, humans and their pets. There’s even an online forum for Roomba owners to swap tales and advice about Roomba/pet interaction.

The most popular advice: “Chastise the vacuum in front of the dog,” the article says. You shake your finger at the robot and sternly say, “Bad Roomba.” After that, the dog never nips at it again, one customer says.

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Source: The Wall Street Journal 11 June 2008

Related:
Stanford researchers trying to develop robot like the Jetson’s Rosie

Stanford researchers trying to develop robot like the Jetson’s Rosie

Isaac Asimov would be pleased! Computer science professor Oussama Khatib and his research group at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory are working to make humanoid robots more graceful, useful and safety-conscious in complex human environments, according to a Stanford University announcement.

“Humanoid robots today can walk and wave, but they cannot interact with the world,” Khatib said. “We are developing robots with the capability to physically touch, push and move objects.”

To be useful, robots must be able to manipulate objects as they move through their environments — just like the Jetsons’ robotic maid Rosie gracefully slid through rooms as she dusted tables, cleaned windows and vacuumed the floor in the animated TV series.

One trick to making robot movements more human-like is to mimic the human tendency to use the minimal amount of muscular effort to accomplish the task, and to avoid doing anything uncomfortable, Khatib said. The researchers studied human movements to produce an “energy-optimization model,” which allows the robot to accomplish tasks using a “smooth path” while minimizing physical effort — just like humans do.

In about a year, Khatib hopes to see his ideas embodied in one of Honda’s humanoid robots, ASIMO. Though this seven-year-old robot can walk, run and greet passers-by, it cannot yet perform useful tasks in a complex, real-time world. With Khatib’s new software, ASIMO eventually will be able to perform chores such as ironing and clearing tables.

Safety First
Robots like ASIMO also must be safe and human-friendly to achieve popularity in a human environment, the release noted. For example, to safely shake a person’s hand, a robot must understand the proper pressure to apply. So workers in Khatib’s lab have designed robot arms that use multiple motors (instead of just one) for a softer touch.

The Stanford announcement said Khatib envisions a not-so-distant future in which robots will perform boring chores such as washing dishes or filing office papers with little or no human involvement — except voice commands.

Blog Watch: Roland Piquepaille’s Technology Trends

One of the many blogs I monitor is Roland Piquepaille’s Technology Trends. Here’s my review:

Mission: “How new technologies are modifying our way of life”

Author: Roland Piquepaille, a computer consultant based in Paris; partner in the Savoir-Faire & Cie network; specializes in high-performance computing and visualization.

Pros: Wide range of raw material (he must read a lot of publications!). Identifies sources. Adds context and related links. Good RSS feed. Provides images/photos.

Cons: None.

Comment: If you’re in a hurry, the first paragraph (which shows up in the RSS feed) tells you mostly what you need to know.

Examples of gems I found there:

RFID tags spy on bartenders: Capton, a provider of liquor-monitoring technology, has developed the Beverage Tracker system (being tested at the Treasure Island hotel-casino in Las Vegas) which uses RFID tags to determine whether bartenders are overpouring or undercharging. It can save $90,000/year for an average bar.

The first world map of happiness: Built at the University of Leicester, the map shows you’ll be happier if you live in Denmark (rated No.1) or Switzerland (No.2) than in Zimbabwe (No.177) or Burundi (No.178).

A robot that paints like Jackson Pollock: Computer scientists at the Washington University in Saint-Louis built a robot that makes drip paintings like Jackson Pollock’s — who was also known as “Jack the Dripper.” The robot, dubbed ‘Action Jackson,’ can finish an ‘artwork’ in just minutes, like Jackson Pollock probably did. But the paintings by this robot can be bought for about $10, far from the whopping $140 million price paid last year for “No.5, 1948.”