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The New Industrial Revolution—Robotics

Like sci-fi movie come true, today’s robots have the capabilities to take humans out of harm’s way and do the dangerous, dirty, repetitive tasks that humans simply shouldn’t have to—though they may also cause serious disruption in the jobs market. The first robots being widely used on the job show what we can expect from future robotics, what jobs may be affected, and how this technology can be utilized without causing upheaval in the jobs market.

Over the last three years, Amazon has added 15,000 robots annually to its fulfillment centers, and they are only one of many. Robots take on the tasks of moving, stacking, picking, packing, shipping and organizing products in the warehouse, though they are not without supervision. Human still monitor the robotic workforce, though with only a fraction of the staff required. Warehousing robots generally move faster and more efficiently than humans, while also minimizing workplace injuries. Though warehousing jobs may begin to shrink, manufacturers have an opportunity to build on the demand for advanced robotics, creating more precise machines that can take on more tasks.

Self-driving technology requires some refinement before it can be safely and widely applied to logistics, however the first driverless deliveries have already been made. Uber oversaw their first self-driven delivery (50,000 cans of Budweiser) last October, drones and knee-high rolling robots are making last-mile deliveries of smaller items, and Rolls Royce is currently developing a self-sailing ship to handle overseas deliveries. While this technology will inevitably change the logistics landscape, it also means that shipping will ultimately be faster, cheaper, more reliable, and safer, translating to cost savings for companies, lower prices on goods for customers, and less accidents and injuries. Automakers, software engineers, guidance systems developers, and other manufacturers, as well as their partners and suppliers, all stand to gain from the self-driving revolution.

Welding robots are often used by large companies producing a high volume of a particular part over an extended period of time. The time and effort required to “teach” or program the robot to perform a task has not previously been cost-effective for producing a limited number of parts. However this technology too has become more accessible, and smaller companies are now using robotic welders to take on certain tasks. While this may put welders ill at ease, robotic welders still require an experienced human to direct the task. This technology does offer companies the opportunity to take on more contracts in the midst of a shortage of new and experienced welders.  
Just as the Industrial Revolution changed the working landscape forever, the New Industrial Revolution has all the potential to do the same. Whether it creates employment upheaval or creates safer, more efficient jobsites with a more skilled human workforce, will depend on how the technology is implemented.

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