Sometimes a unique insight leads to actions that will impact the big picture. To get America Working Again, we need to find new ways to compete with low cost producers around the world. Emerging technology is leading us to new methods of producing goods at dramatically lower cost.
At the recent Maker Faire gathering, Rodney Brooks of Rethink Robotics gave an outstanding presentation on the history, current state and future of robotics. He knows the topic like no one else, he was personally involved in many of the breakthroughs in the technology at Stanford and MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Lab.
Mr. Brooks is also the co-founder of IRobot, the company that makes the Roomba home vacuum cleaning robot. And the Roomba is selling quite well, even as clone products and comparable applications like robotic lawn mowers become more popular.
The premise is two-fold. The rate of increase in performance of robotics is following Moore’s Law, it’s doubling every couple of years. The performance can be described in various dimensions, but it boils down to greater capability at lower cost. The performance behavior follows the computer industry exactly.
The second aspect, which springs from the first, is the economic impact on manufacturing. If robots continue to decline in cost, how does that impact manufacturing? It lowers the cost. Lower manufacturing costs will make American manufacturers more competitive worldwide.
Robots are doing a number of applications better than human beings. Robot welders can turn our more welds, more consistently. Medical robots perform orthopedic surgeries with greater accuracy under direct operation by doctors. Sewing robots are emerging in a few applications with extraordinary capability and easily outperforms low cost laborers at higher quality.
Control sophistication is now allowing the robot to interact directly with a human being. Force sensing and high reliability controls make this practical and safe.
Will the Robot Revolution take hold in the US? I certainly hope so. This is another industry that was invented in America with the first industrial robots from Unimation. It has also become another in a long list of industries that are no longer “Made in America”. All the robots used in the US come from Europe or Asia.
It’s time to take back the leadership position in this strategic industry. This is a huge opportunity that will position the US as the economic force we have been in the past.