General-purpose robots threaten jobs

Signal of change / General-purpose robots threaten jobs

By Louis Hadley / 14 Sep 2014

Meet Baxter: a new type of robot that could disrupt the workforce in many industries which require low-skilled labour. Unlike previous robots that required skilled technicians to maintain and oversee them, cost millions of dollars and were made to suit very niche roles, Baxter is the first generation of general-purpose robots.

Baxter was developed by Rethink Robotics, a company offering “the world’s first interactive production robots that empower people to take their automation needs into their own hands – literally”. But for many, distributed robotics manufacturing spells job losses rather than empowerment.

Embedded sensors and force detection mean these robots are able to uniquely 'feel' their way into position for human-like responsiveness and accuracy. Baxter can actually learn what you want it to do by watching you, and costs less than the average annual salary of a human worker. Unlike its predecessors, this robot isn’t preprogramed for one specific job. It can do whatever work is within the reach of its arms.

So what?

Its ‘general-purpose’ nature is a big deal: just think of the evolution of computers. Baxter can be thought of as equivalent to the desktop models of the 1980s. What might such robots be capable of, and what jobs might they replace, another 30 years into the future?

Image credit: Steve Jurvetson / Flickr


Rethink Robotics (2015). Baxter with Intera 3

What might the implications of this be? What related signals of change have you seen?

Please register or log in to comment.