3-D for Automation

man and the robot best friends

3-D printing, or additive manufacturing, is a fairly recent idea. It’s used primarily for prototyping in manufacturing today, and most of the excitement about it is not based in or indeed anywhere near industrial automation. The jazziest 3-D printing plans have to do with creative custom applications in healthcare or food and nothing to do with producing large quantities of anything.

But automation used to have a completely different use of “3 D,” namely the 3 Ds: dirty, dangerous, and dull.

The 3 Ds described the kind of work considered appropriate for automation. Rexroth’s carefully closed servo motors can tolerate caustic chemicals in washdown environments where human beings shouldn’t be. Robots can handle repetitive motions all day and all night without even worrying about carpal tunnel syndrome. In fact, robots won’t worry at all.

Things that would be dangerous or unpleasant for human beings can be done by machinery. That’s one of the reasons we have machinery.

Now here’s where a philosophical problem can arise. We are fine with letting a Rexroth MSK motor toil away day and night. But once a machine begins to have quasi-human characteristics, we feel completely different. Once we interact with robots in a human-like way, we don’t want them to have to do things we wouldn’t want to do.

Wired magazine reported on an experiment in which subjects met a robotic dinosaur toy and dressed them up, then held a fashion show. The humans went off for a coffee break (which machines don’t need) and he researchers told them that the robots had been naughty and had to be punished. The humans couldn’t do it. When researchers told the human subjects that they could save their robots by killing other people’s robots, one human decapitated another person’s robot. He was shunned by the group.

It took just one morning for the machine to worm its way into the hearts of the humans. How long would it take before people began to feel that Baxter shouldn’t be forced to work in a hot room, or to work all night?

And, once people trained themselves to ignore the imagined suffering of a humanoid robot, how long would it be till that training caused those people to be harsh toward people?

Best leave the servo in its cabinet. If it needs help, give us a call. We’ll take excellent care of it for you.

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