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posted by martyb on Wednesday January 19, @07:49PM   Printer-friendly
from the it-has-begun dept.

Now You Can Rent a Robot Worker:

Polar Manufacturing has been making ​metal ​hinges, locks, and brackets ​in south Chicago for more than 100 years. Some of the company's metal presses—hulking great machines that loom over a worker—date from the 1950s. Last year, to meet rising demand amid a shortage of workers, Polar hired its first robot employee.

The robot arm performs a simple, repetitive job: lifting a piece of metal into a press, which then bends the metal into a new shape. And like a person, the robot worker gets paid for the hours it works.

​Jose Figueroa​, who manages Polar's production line, says the robot, which is leased from a company called Formic, costs the equivalent of $8 per hour, compared with a minimum wage of $15 per hour for a human employee. Deploying the robot allowed a human worker to do different work, increasing output, Figueroa says.

"Smaller companies sometimes suffer because they can't spend the capital to invest in new technology," Figueroa says. "We're just struggling to get by with the minimum wage increase."


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  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by MostCynical on Wednesday January 19, @08:26PM (8 children)

    by MostCynical (2589) on Wednesday January 19, @08:26PM (#1213929) Journal

    how is this different to large, automated plants, where there is a machine ("robot"?) for each step in the process, and each feeds the next?

    This enables large numbers of employees to 'do other things' (usually, "get a job elsewhere")

    How many individual steps does the machine need to perform before it is a robot?

    Is every conveyor belt a 'robot', or only if it is leased?

    --
    "I guess once you start doubting, there's no end to it." -Batou, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
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  • (Score: 2) by PinkyGigglebrain on Wednesday January 19, @08:46PM (1 child)

    by PinkyGigglebrain (4458) on Wednesday January 19, @08:46PM (#1213934)

    When you factor in the cost of health insurance and unemployment in addition to the base salary it adds up to a lot more than the usual min. wage a Human gets. For a small company it could benifit them greatly as they can afford more "workers" doing the repetative and sometimes dangerous tasks for substantially less than a Human which would free up funds for hiring Humans for the tasks that need more adaptability and multi-roll abilities. It could potentially make workers with "Jack of all trades" skill sets that much more valuable.

    That said I agree with you that for larger companies, or even smaller ones that run more production line style operations this kind of "rent a bot" option will displace Humans and likely leave them unemployed.

    This is another situation where something new, be it a high versatility bot or a desktop computer with basic office software, may end up having a much larger impact on it's targeted area than originally expected.

    Time will tell, as it has with every other new application of technology.

    --
    "Beware those who would deny you Knowledge, For in their hearts they dream themselves your Master."
    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by mhajicek on Thursday January 20, @01:00AM

      by mhajicek (51) on Thursday January 20, @01:00AM (#1214018)

      I have a robot (CNC mill) working for me right now. I pay it (or rather the company bought it from) about $2k/mo. In four years it'll be paid off.

      --
      The spacelike surfaces of time foliations can have a cusp at the surface of discontinuity. - P. Hajicek
  • (Score: 4, Informative) by maxwell demon on Wednesday January 19, @08:53PM

    by maxwell demon (1608) on Wednesday January 19, @08:53PM (#1213938) Journal

    The difference is the huge up-front investment to build a large automated plant. You won't do that unless you've got the money to invest. This, on the other hand, has no more up-front cost than hiring another worker. The investment risk lies completely with the company providing the robot.

    --
    The Tao of math: The numbers you can count are not the real numbers.
  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by ElizabethGreene on Wednesday January 19, @08:59PM (3 children)

    by ElizabethGreene (6748) on Wednesday January 19, @08:59PM (#1213943)

    how is this different to large, automated plants, where there is a machine ("robot"?) for each step in the process, and each feeds the next?

    The line between "robot" and "machine" is very fuzzy. Usually, the line gets drawn around programmability, but it is completely arbitrary.

    E.x. a fully automated stamping line can have a coil feed metal into the stamping head and the die eject the scrap and parts into separate bins. That's a machine. If you replace the die ejector with a two-DOF arm and actuator that pulls the part out of the die, most people will call that a robot... even if it's dumb as a rock.

    It's arbitrary.

    • (Score: 2) by DrkShadow on Wednesday January 19, @10:45PM (2 children)

      by DrkShadow (1404) on Wednesday January 19, @10:45PM (#1213976)

      Hmm. Something that could plausibly be re-purposed for another task? (Automobile assembly arms that do exactly one thing)

      I think machine is something that follows a fixed path (programming isn't fixed, but gears and pins are). For a robot, it needs to ask *something* (program, punchcard) for its next action. If it does does-thing-when-thing (sensor on a conveyor belt) it's a machine.

      Interesting.

      • (Score: 2) by maxwell demon on Thursday January 20, @09:29AM (1 child)

        by maxwell demon (1608) on Thursday January 20, @09:29AM (#1214105) Journal

        What's strange to me in this discussion is that a recurring theme is that robots are not machines. In my view, robots are a certain class of machines. A robot is always a machine, but a machine may not be a robot.

        For me, a machine is a robot if it has many ways of movement. A big block that goes up and down is not a robot. An machine arm that has many joints is a robot. And yes, the boundary is fuzzy. As are the boundaries of almost all real-world concepts.

        --
        The Tao of math: The numbers you can count are not the real numbers.
        • (Score: 2) by ElizabethGreene on Saturday January 22, @12:21AM

          by ElizabethGreene (6748) on Saturday January 22, @12:21AM (#1214673)

          I'm with you. Electrically, pneumatically, or hydraulicly actuate mechanical critters, smart or dumb, are machines.

          There are more fuzzy edges when we start looking out to intelligent machines. A machine capable of locomotion, self-preservation, procreation, planning, execution, communication, and introspection is probably going to be a machine, robot, and person.

  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by JoeMerchant on Wednesday January 19, @09:00PM

    by JoeMerchant (3937) on Wednesday January 19, @09:00PM (#1213945)

    Back in the late wire-wrapping days, we had a couple of employees who built our wire-wrapped prototypes. They did a good job, as good as you can with wire wrap, but... they were people, people who had a bad habit of leaving when it got hot in Miami to "visit their sick mothers in New York," and then when it would get cold in New York they would show up in Miami again and ask if they could have their old job back. Well - good wire wrap techs are hard to find, so we did take them back through about 5 cycles of this, but... one July we wanted a prototype, and we didn't want to wait until October-November to get it started, and we didn't really want it wire wrapped anyway, so, for less than the cost of 6 months of their salaries we got a circuit board milling machine - and while it wasn't perfect, it was better in so many ways, particularly if you wanted more than one of something... and the wire wrappers didn't get their jobs back this time when they showed up in October, but on her last trip out of the building one did manage to slip and fall on the same doorstep they had used every work day for 7+ years without incident, and that initiated a lawsuit that drug on for another 7+ years.

    --
    Україна не входить до складу Росії.