Robot Challenges

sorting mail

Which of these tasks is really difficult?

  • Opening a door and stepping in
  • Putting packages onto a conveyor belt
  • Folding clothes
  • Removing fruit from a conveyor belt

None of these tasks will be hard if you’re a human, but all of them are big challenges to robots.

FedEx has started using robots to put mailing pieces onto a conveyor belt, even though human beings can do the job twice as fast. They’re relying on machine learning to speed up the task over time.

One big reason for making the effort? One human worker can oversee eight robots doing the job. The human can step in and help the robots when they get confused. That’s one person doing a job that would otherwise take four people.

Robots, in this case, are helping a human worker to be more productive.

Or, three people have lost their jobs to robots. Eventually, if the robots learn to do the task as fast as humans, seven people will have lost their jobs to robots.

The upside

Increased automation can mean greater safety for human workers during the pandemic. One worker overseeing a cohort of robots is in less danger than eight people crowded together sorting packages, no question.

People who have done this job say that it’s dangerous, too, since they’re close to moving machinery at all times. The fast pace keeps it interesting for some, but others worry that a moment of inattention could have negative consequences.

It’s also a tedious job. FedEx generally scheduled people in this position for just a half day, since a job that is both boring and dangerous can be really dangerous.

It’s hard to predict how the future of this particular job will work out, since machine learning is involved. It may turn out that one person can supervise even more robots, or that eight robots will achieve very high levels of production.

The future

It’s hard to predict the future of automation. As new developments in sensors, cameras, and robotic movement make their way from the lab to the factory, robots may get over their challenges and become more powerful and more ubiquitous.

They’ll still need drive and control systems. When your Rexroth drive and control systems need help, call us first. No matter what jobs you have assigned to your robots, we can provide the service and support you need.

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