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Rodney Brooks: "Will Our Consumer Goods Always Be Manufactured By Hand?"
Rodney Brooks, Chairman and CTO of Heartland Robotics; Panasonic Professor of Robotics Emeritus, MIT CSAIL Keynote speaker at MIT LGO conference on "The Future of Manufacturing in the US" (May 8, 2012) Recent economics have dictated that our lowest-cost goods for mass consumption are, literally, largely made by hand in developing economies. The primary locations of that hand labor have been on the move for sixty years as economic development fueled by manufacturing has lead to the labor pricing itself out of the low-end manufacturing market. In 1961 robots came to the rescue of manufacturing labor costs in the United States. Or so it seemed at first, when a GM factory in New Jersey was the site of the first installation of industrial robots. Their task was to help build automobiles. But two unexpected things happened. The ideas and early companies involved in the technology had all started out in the United States, but over time, through competition and acquisition the robot industry moved to Japan and Europe and the distribution channels became stultified. But worse, the players all started competing on precision and repeatability, rather than ease of use and flexibility. When sensors and computation became cheap enough to be incorporated into industrial robots they were applied to competition in the former criteria, rather than the green new fields of the latter. Thus far, robots in manufacturing have turned out to be very capital intensive, hard to use, dangerous to be <b>...</b>