Robots Already Build Cars, But They May Build Car Factories Soon, Too
We’ll always need humans to manufacture robots for automated manufacturing, or at least that’s been the prevailing wisdom for years.
But what if that wasn’t the case?
Robot arms, such as the Franka Emika pictured above, might change all that, as they now have the ability to clone themselves.
Mind you, we’re far from entering a world where robots enslave humans (I hope), but a self-replicating robot brings with it many risks and rewards.
On the reward side, if you teach a robot to do something (properly or improperly), it will repeat that same procedure (properly or improperly) until such time as there’s a fault. Unlike humans, robots don’t have variable attention spans, get tired, and never call in sick after a Sunday night bender.
Those rewards are great if you design, manufacture, build, and deploy industrial robots, but now there’s a very good chance robots could be assembled and deployed by themselves. That doesn’t just put assembly line jobs at risk, but also much higher paying jobs that usually require greater education and knowledge.
If there’s one silver lining in this dystopian cloud, it’s that the Emika is built to work alongside humans, reports Quartz, unlike many industrial robot arms that work in cages to keep us meatbags away. Using sensors monitoring torque in each of its seven joints, the Emika will stop its task as soon as it “feels” resistance.
Franka Emika’s creator, Sami Haddadin, famously let a robot with similar functionality attempt to stab him with a knife in 2010, according to IEEE Spectrum at the time. The blade didn’t break the skin.
The Emika is far from being the same size as robots used on vehicle assembly lines, but scaling up such a design is just a matter of time. Add to that two things: one of Franka’s main backers is Kuka, a major supplier of the automotive industry, and — last time I checked — robots don’t need a green card to get a job.
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No, the Franka Emika does not have the "ability to clone" itself, nor can it build a factory to make itself. It may have the ability to assemble parts made by people and other machines. While I'm sure it could be used to machine tools, dies, fixtures, and molds that are used in making its own parts, all that work would have to be programmed by human beings. That puts aside philosophical questions about machines knowing or learning about human needs, wants and desires. Can a robot fear? Can a robot lust? By the way, do you have any idea how strong the demand is for people who can do CAD/CAM design and programming? I own a Prusa i3 Mk2 3D printer. Jo Prusa is a big part of the RepRap community, a group of engineers and enthusiasts who are developing "self-replicating" machines. Prusa Research has 200 printers in their print farms, working 24hrs a day making parts for their printers. Humans still assemble them. A 3D printer may mean someone isn't getting a job operating an injection molding press, but also, that unemployed machine operator can get his or her own 3D printer (less than the cost of a good big screen tv) and start their own business. Every industrial revolution is going to cause dislocations with costs to some and benefits to others. The 3D printer and laser cutter/engraver in my dining room may mean that I'm not paying a injection molder to make parts for my electric harmonica project but they do allow me to start a business that may end up employing people.
BTW, we'll start hearing about banning robots about the same time that realistic female sexbots will be developed. The laws will be carefully crafted to ensure that the primitive robots known as vibrators will be grandmothered in.