By on February 11, 2017

Franka Emika Robot Arm, Image: Franka

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 themselvesThat 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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17 Comments on “Robots Already Build Cars, But They May Build Car Factories Soon, Too...”


  • avatar
    gottacook

    Early in his career, when he sold dozens of stories to SF magazines within a few years, Philip K. Dick wrote the novella “Autofac” that pertains exactly to the idea of self-building factories.

    At the end (SPOILER ALERT FOR AN EARLY-1950s STORY), the machines win; when the few surviving humans finally succeed in destroying the automated underground factory that’s been sending out robots to scrounge up all the raw materials in the world (in competition with other such factories), the dying factory “sporifies” by shooting out tiny missiles that contain tiny self-building factories – which quickly grow.

  • avatar

    Unfortunately, America is missing out on this next industrial revolution. Most of the factory robots and machines tools found in a modern US factories are primarily from German, Japan, and China. Though the US leads in research and development it has fallen way behind in the manufacture of industrial robotics. There are only a few US robotic companies ranked in the international top twenty. The last time I looked the US is ranked sixth in the world in machine tool production. Even Italy has pulled ahead. The Italian increase in machine tools and robotics production has been attributed to Fiat’s take over of Chrysler. There is now grave concern in the industry about America’s lack of competitiveness in this area. The New York Time addressed this issue several weeks ago in a op-ed piece in the Sunday times. The article is below.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/25/technology/personaltech/how-to-make-americas-robots-great-again.html

  • avatar
    Ol Shel

    The free market hasn’t protected us from stagnant wages, job exportation, undocumented workers, or automation.

    Only government of, by, and for the people can do that.

    Our government, owned by those with the most to donate to campaigns, does not protect workers. And, by not protecting workers, it doesn’t protect the nation.

    Only we can demand the changes that will protect jobs, or if we don’t care about jobs, we need to demand that corporations still provide income to people. I don’t understand quite how the pro-automation and exportation advocates think this is going to end well for America. They want us to ignore what our lyin’ eyes tell us, in favor of a scenario that allows them to steal away more and more of the pie.

    • 0 avatar
      DearS

      We have been brain and heart washed. This is as much about our general intelligence and IQ as anything, IMO.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      Ol Shel,
      Why are you not like your forefathers and generate opportunity, instead of fearing making an effort?

      Do you really expect an opportunistic and innovative person to side with you?

      Look at what made “America Great”. Immigrants with varying ideas and being prepared to profit and expand these ideas. Not the current bullsh!t Trump ideal of trying to bully other nations. That is a p!ss weak method of doing business, like a thug.

      You’d better put your head down and assup if you want to survive, put an effort in.

      You are not entitled to a job, this is earnt. Better still start up a business and talk about productivity vs profit.

      Robots are here to stay and expand rapidly. Why don’t you come up with ideas to value add, instead of bleeding the nation.

      I bet you don’t mind your TV, car, toaster, icecube making fridge, aircon and on and on.

      This was not available to all 100 years ago. But were did the farriers and blacksmiths go. I bet many of them whined as well.

      Just making toast involved lighting a fire! How good do we have it now and how much better can we make it for our grand kids. Better health and education would be a good start.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      “Our government, owned by those with the most to donate to campaigns….”

      ALL government…

      And not only that: ALL CONCEIVABLE government, with the possible exception of the most rigid of fundamentalist theocracies….

      In the long run, noone ever benefits from voluntarily bending over and letting others lord over them. Those others’ promises may sound oh-so sweet to the battle weary, but Ben Franklin’s famous quip about selling out liberty for a bit of safety, will always come back to bite the voluntarily bent over suckers in the end.

  • avatar
    OldManPants

    Cloning oneself should be more fun than that video shows.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    I wouldn’t worry too much about robots “reproducing”. This next phase of human history will be amazing.

    Many are concerned how they will put food on the table, no different than this last phase of industrialisation.

    There is a fantastic German movie, Metropolis made in the twenties, 1984 and many other movies and even TV series that tried to predict the future.

    As with the last industrialisation phase, mass production many new and exciting jobs came to the fore along with massive changes socially. Most jobs now didn’t exist. Most sport was a dream as 50% of the average income was spent on food and much more. Look at available entertainment now. Hours worked per week.

    Many were lifted out of poverty in wealthy nations, now poorer will have this opportunity.

    Societal norms will homogenise across the globe when a equilibrium is reached, like what occurred in the West with WWII.

    Humans’ have seen nothing yet. The phase after Robots (a Czech word) and AI we will see the rise of organic manufacturing. Every thing from homes to transport will be grown from designer seeds, controlled by chips and software.

    Imagine growing a boat with propulsion? It might not be that hard.

    Right now we are competing against robots more and more, not the Chinese or Mexicans.

    What we must do, as in the past is create employment that robots can’t do….and work less hours …… 30?

    • 0 avatar

      It is a shame America is missing out on this new frontier.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Much respect for citing Lang’s classic, bonus points for naming the other epic film he is known for *jeopardy music*.

      Oh and the robots will eventually find a way to kill us all, unless we beat them to it first (on the killing us all part).

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        28, I’m slowly writing a SciFi novel.

        In it we design insects to defeat the lower tech Chinese who use AI and robots.

        Just drop billions of eggs and you have an army of acid spitting insects that are controlled via chips and software. Then they die after a few days.

  • avatar
    dont.fit.in.cars

    Laughable and worry not people. Cost of robots, programming and head tools are twice to three times as much as one task complete worker. Robots fail when small companies use labor for multiple tasks. In addition lower cost robots throughput rate is less than worker capability.

  • avatar
    stuki

    What I find a bit amusing, is it has been decades since those actually involved in manufacturing of complex products, realized the model of “industrial workers as interchangeable, zero flexibility robots” simply did not work. So that ever since, pushing decision making out to the periphery has been the goal of all successful manufacturing enterprises. Not “some guy, who, like, with venture funding, like, who build a robot, with, like AI and stuff…..”

    The only ones too dense and ignorant of reality to not realize this, are those with no experience from manufacturing and engineering whatsoever. And the only reason you hear the prejudices of such ignoramuses even mentioned in any other context than as punchlines in jokes, is that the Fed, the legal/regulatory environment and financialization, have now gone so far, that simply selling hype to the Fed welfare recipients known as Investors, dramatically trump doing anything actually productive as a means to increase the share price of even a company nominally involved in manufacturing.

    Which is also the reason American companies don’t feature in the top anything when it comes to industrial machinery: American companies now specialize in manufacturing stocks, bonds, laws, regulations and protectionist politicians. Via their most important, hence best remunerated departments: Legal, Executive and Financial. The rest of manufacturing is more efficiently done somewhere else. In locales where those involved in it, aren’t quite as burdened by having to keep paying for the lavish lifestyles of the above three leeching groups.

  • avatar

    God creates man.
    Man kills God.
    Man creates robot.
    Robot kills man.

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar

    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.


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