Rise of the robots; friend or foe?

Posted on 28 Aug 2014 by Callum Bentley

In my first Editor’s Introduction for The Manufacturer, I pose to you one very brave question: Would this piece be better written by a robot?

Callum Bentley - Editor, The Manufacturer
Callum Bentley – Editor, The Manufacturer

Before you click the back button on your browser, quaff down the last of your brew and head back to whatever else you could be doing, hear me out.

Industrial automation is increasingly becoming one of the most talked about issues facing the UK manufacturing sector. Recent statistics from the ONS show productivity and output of UK manufacturing fell 0.2% in Q1 compared with previous estimates on 0.3%, 11% below its pre-recession peak. Without trying to sound ostentatious, it is little surprise considering the UK is ranked 19th in the world for robots per 100,000 employees.

In saying this, I understand the concern voiced by many in the sector regarding the potential loss of jobs by mass automation implementation. But I also feel as though these claims are severely mislead.

An increase in automation will mean an increase in skills to maintain, operate and design new systems. We should also expect to see more UK manufacturers focusing on the production of robots themselves – and this an important point.

Much of the debate around robotics, particularly in the manufacturing sector is about the implementation of robots in factories to assist in the production of goods. But what about robots to assist with everyday activities and procedures?

In the soon to be released September issue of TM, Victoria Fitzgerald examines the recently launched Robotics and Autonomous Systems Strategy. The strategy is a collaboration of key stakeholders from government, industry and academia who met with the Technology Strategy Board to create the Robotics and Autonomous Systems Special interest Group. The group is tasked with the mission of understanding the landscape and opportunity for RAS in the UK and to produce RAS 2020, a national strategy to respond to what the UK Government labelled in 2012 as the Eight Great Technologies that support UK Industrial Strategy driving efforts to rebalance the economy.

What the UK RAS industry is already producing is two things: 1) Amazing technologies being built here in the UK to make life, industry and work easier, more efficient and more productive, and; 2) A new breed of entrepreneurs who are seeing this potential and going forth and producing these new technologies, successfully. If you want a fine example of these kinds of entrepreneurs, just have a quick look at these guys!

But reader beware, the current downfall of these technologies can be seen in a recent article, where self-proclaimed hacker Jesus Molina claimed he managed to take control of the home automation network in a 5-star hotel and then control every room from his laptop. However, as with every new technological advancement, safeguards will continue to advance with them.

Yes, I am excited about robotics, and I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether a robot could have written this piece better. I for one welcome our new robot overlords, do you?