|Robots are learning to think like humans
In a lab at the University of Washington, robots are playing air hockey.Or they’re solving Rubik’s Cubes, mastering chess or painting the next Mona Lisa with a single laser beam.To get more news about Robots on Demand, you can visit glprobotics.com official website.
As the robots play, the researchers who built them are learning more about how they work, how they think and where they have room to grow, said Xu Chen, one of those researchers and an associate professor of mechanical engineering at UW.
“From a robot’s viewpoint, artificial intelligence is getting more and more mature,” Chen said, referring to the software and algorithms that help a robot take in its surroundings and make decisions. “But if we want a full-scale robot to be able to think very quickly and cleverly, and then be able to do things in the physical space, I don’t think we’re there yet.”The games are a way to get one step closer to taking the robots out of the air hockey arena and into the workforce, asking machines to shoulder tasks like lifting and moving heavy boxes for hours at a time. Robots are already working in warehouses, helping Amazon and Walmart customers get their orders faster, but e-commerce and retail leaders want them to do more. The jobs have already been assigned but some of the technology still needs to catch up.
In Chen’s lab, the games can fill in some of those gaps, mirroring how a robot might operate in an ever-changing workplace. The laser painting is a scaled-down version of a 3D printer, which can be used to test and manufacture parts for the aerospace industry. Watching an air hockey puck fly down the table helps researchers understand how to “clean” the data the machine is processing from the environment around it.
Already, there’s growing demand for that type of technology. The market for automated solutions for warehouses — solutions that range from conveyor belts to robotic arms to autonomous carts that ferry packages around a facility without direction from a human — could reach $51 billion by 2030, based on an estimate from ABI Research, a New York-based firm that studies technology.
In a warehouse, automation and robotics can help businesses speed up operations. That can be good for a company’s bottom line but hard for workers, who push to keep pace with the machines. Concerns about that desire for speed are, in part, driving a growing union swell, particularly at Amazon warehouses, seen as one of the fastest e-commerce leaders.
“The acceleration of technology in all kinds of workplaces in new ways is actually a whole new set of reasons for people to get together and form a union,” said Jim Stanford, an economist and director of the Centre for Future Work, a progressive economic research firm.
“I’m not surprised that technology is a factor in what would motivate workers to want a union,” added Lisa Kresge, who studies the intersection of tech and work at the University of California, Berkeley. “Because it’s increasingly a factor that’s affecting their lives.”Venture capital interest in automation saw a spike starting in 2016, when investors handed off more than $2 billion to companies working on automated solutions. In the first half of last year, investors had pledged $1.4 billion to the industry, according to data from research firm Crunchbase.
“There’s a lot of tasks that need to be solved,” said Jeff Burnstein, president of the Association for Advancing Automation. “One of the exciting things now is companies are popping up who are only focusing on specific areas.”Autonomous robots at Amazon sites covered more than 1 billion miles last year, moving packages alongside human co-workers. When a bin arrives at a worker’s stowing station, a software system will shine a light on spots to avoid, helping to calculate the most efficient way to fit items in and around one another. An algorithm later determines — and delivers — the right amount of tape needed to seal up each order.
Amazon says its robots allowed the company to store 40% more inventory in its fulfillment centers. With the product easily on hand, it can shorten the time between when a customer orders, and when the package arrives at their doorstep.