Robot Coworkers?

industrial robotJust how dangerous are robots? We’re not talking here about the kind of robots that take over the city and rampage through the streets. We’re talking about the ones which, thanks to servo drives and advanced motion control, help us out in the factory.

Automation frees us from repetitive tasks, increases precision, lessens waste, and lowers prices. But the robots that put cars together and work in foundries pose dangers to human beings, just as any other heavy machinery can. Safety cages and other safety requirements can make these robots more of an investment, since they need more space as well as more safety measures.

A new breed of robots is being designed with the capacity to work safely alongside human beings. These new robots have padding, humanoid shapes, and other safety features that make it easier for people to work near them with the same level of safety they experience working with other people.

Some of the new robots of this type have faces and names, like the famous Baxter. Baxter’s makers claim that Baxter can be trained rather than programmed and that it has common sense.

At $25,000, Baxter is less expensive than hiring a human being for a year, so it might be a practical option

Robots that can work with people might have unintended consequences. We’ve seen that people can respond emotionally to machines and that it doesn’t take much similarity to humans to get this response. Will robots with faces elicit feelings from humans that could stand in the way of efficient use and service of the robots, as in the poem “Too Human by Half”?

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