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robots

two tiger shaped robot lamps
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Cre Fuller was already at work in the garage behind his Ypsilanti house when I arrived. I had seen photos of his work online, but I was not quite ready for the display set up in the garage. It’s great eye candy. 

"I make robot-inspired sculptures. You know, I try to make them look like vintage robots from the future," Fuller said, glancing around at probably 40 of his creations in the workspace. He says he usually has a few more than that on hand.

Association for Advancing Automation

At this very moment, there are workers in Michigan painting vehicles, assembling things, making welds, packing products, and more.

They don’t need lunch or bathroom breaks. They don’t take sick days or go on vacation.

They’re robots.

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The Next Idea

In a recent interview, Microsoft founder Bill Gates created quite a stir when he suggested that robots be taxed because society will not be able to manage the speed and magnitude of the impending automation of everything.

While his intent was to suggest ways to stave off the massive social unrest that will surely come with wholesale unemployment, it wasn’t a week before the editorial staffs at the Economist and BusinessWeek weighed in on impracticality of the idea, saying it would slow down technology investment and automation rates, and seriously damage American competitiveness.

Association for Advancing Automation

Automation and robotics are playing an ever-increasing role in the workplace, particularly in manufacturing.

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The Next Idea

 

What if governments just gave money to people?

 

That’s the big question that Thomas Weisskopf​, professor emeritus of economics at the University of Michigan, is asking.

Since automation is replacing human-powered labor in fields like manufacturing, robust employment may be a thing of the past. A permanent surplus of labor has massive consequences, driving down wages and even contributing to social unrest. According to Weisskopf, such a dramatic problem demands a dramatic solution.

OCC

The robotics students at Oakland Community College are getting a gift today. 

General Motors is donating robots that were once used to make cars on its assembly plant floors. They are going to the school's industrial robotics program at the Auburn Hills campus. 

The equipment is valued at $20,000  and will be used for hands-on training for students learning how to program and maintain robots.  

Dr. Timothy Meyer is chancellor at Oakland Community College. He says the donation will help prepare students for manufacturing jobs that can help boost the local economy. 

user: Vanillase / Wikimedia Commons

A recent Oxford University report estimates that robots could replace nearly half of the current U.S. workforce.

The report found that office administrators, sales personnel, and those in the service industry are among those at risk of losing their jobs to robots.

Robots have become common in many workplaces since General Motors installed the first robot at a plant in New Jersey in 1961 ("Unimate," as it was called, could weld and move parts that weighed up to 500 pounds).

So can humans keep up, or at least keep ahead of the technology that is changing the workforce?

These are especially important questions here in Michigan, with its historic ties to the auto industry that makes up about 40% of the global supply of industrial robots. 

Stephen Spurr, Chair of the Department of Economics and professor at Wayne State University, joined us today to explore the possibilities (You can listen to our interview with Spurr above.)

Brett Groehler, Director of Photography / UMD

Researchers are sending robots where no scientist has gone before: under the ice in Lake Superior during winter.

This week, researchers from the University of Minnesota-Duluth put their first robot in Lake Superior to test it. Think of them as robotic divers... they travel up and down on cables and collect data. The cables will be anchored to the bottom of the lake.

Erik Brown is one of the lead researchers and the acting director of the Large Lakes Observatory at UMD.  He says the harsh winters on Lake Superior make it too dangerous for people to go out on ships and collect data.