Will the Rise of Robots Result in a Jobless Future?

April 27, 2018 Karli Langner

The Rise of Robots

Robots are everywhere. At the MODEX 2018 Conference in Atlanta, there were hundreds of them picking parts from conveyor lines, sorting parts in bins, driving vehicles or moving huge pieces of equipment. Warehouse processes such as order fulfillment require the ability to recognize and pick a wide range of items that are different sizes, weights, and materials, often jumbled together in bins. This is the world of the new robots that were showcased at MODEX 2018.

Some of the robots were mobile-controlled and capable of picking totes and boxes off of existing shelves to deliver to picking stations. Others were performing a variety of applications, including robot goods-to-person picking and packing, auto-bagging, sorter induction, e-commerce order picking and more. Some of the robots used vision-guided, machine learning-based software designed to enable autonomous lights-out warehouse fulfillment.

One robotic arm fitted with sensors, an intelligent gripper and an integrated vision system was able to pick any range of items at any rate of picking with greater reliability. It was able to “learn” about the size and shape of a stock keeping unit (SKU), even if it had not seen the piece before. It is designed to pick items from automated storage and retrieval systems, induct items onto sorters, and sort batch-picked items. Utilizing machine learning, the system becomes increasingly more intelligent, expanding the range of pickable SKUs and first-pick success.

Are these robots going to take our jobs?

The answer is “No.”

The new term is “co-bot,” which are collaborative robots designed to work alongside and physically interact with humans in a shared workspace. While robots may take over highly repetitive, simple and monotonous tasks, they cannot replace the skills of the human brain and heart. Amazon uses a variety of robots to move stacks or individual boxes throughout the warehouse. But it takes a human to program the robot to tell it where to move the boxes.

McKinsey Management wrote a report in 2017 “on the effects of automation on jobs, skills and wages for the period ending in 2030 estimates that fully 50% of current work activities are automatable by technologies that have already been tested and found effective. The report predicts that in 60 percent of occupations, at least one-third of activities could be automated. The report expects 400 million to 800 million people could be displaced by automation in the next 12 years, creating a challenge potentially greater than past historic shifts, at least in the modern era.”

Technology and humans will continue to work together in a symbiotic relationship, where each balance and mutually benefit each other. While robots may take over some jobs, they will open up a whole new world of increasing automation that will create new kinds of employment. 100 years ago people felt the automobile would be bad for workers and several jobs disappeared, especially those relating to horse-drawn carriages. But with the invention of the car came new jobs: automobile mechanics, engine designers for new modes of transportation, and other new fields.

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