Category Archives: Robotics

Almost Half of US Jobs at Risk of Automation

Approximately half of American jobs could be replaced by automation in the coming years, and roughly one in four are at risk of being lost to foreign competition, according to a study recently published by Ball State University.

Image: Study: Almost Half of US Jobs at Risk of Automation

“We do not wish to be alarmist,” the researchers said. “Both trade- and automation-related economic growth are hallmarks of a vibrant economy. The findings of direct and indirect impacts of displacement are not homogeneous across populations. The negative long-term impacts of displacement have been found to be worse for low-skilled, less-educated workers, who are likely to work in more vulnerable jobs.”

Employees at risk of losing their jobs to automation are low-skilled workers with lower wages, while virtually all labour markets are susceptible to job losses because of foreign competition. The U.S. economy has already lost about 71,000 retail jobs to machines since the beginning of this year, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.


Slow economic growth is the mantra of political campaigns and economic angst. Growth in economic output per hour (“labour productivity”) achieved an annual pace of 3 percent for a full half-century between 1920 and 1970. Since 1970 that rate has slowed to about 1.5 percent, and in the last six years productivity growth has slowed further to a lamentable 0.5 percent annual rate.

Robin Gordon’s  book The Rise and Fall of American Growth attributes this enormous contrast between rapid growth in 1920-70 and slow growth after 1970 to the basic nature of inventions. Growth in the middle of the 20th century was propelled by the invention in the late 19th century of electricity, the internal combustion engine, the telephone, chemicals and plastics, and the diffusion to every urban household of clear running water and waste removal. America made a transition from 50 percent of the working population on farms to a largely urban nation, and the drudgery of household work – carrying water in and out, doing laundry on a scrub board – made a transition to modern bathrooms and kitchens by the 1950s.

The digital revolution associated with computers has since 1960 dominated the sphere of innovation, as office work transitioned from the typewriter and old-fashioned calculator to the new world of personal computers, spreadsheet and word processing software, the internet, and search engines. But the impact of this revolution in boosting productivity growth lasted only one decade (1995-2005), a much shorter impetus than occurred earlier in the century when productivity growth achieved its 3 percent annual pace for five decades from 1920 to 1970.

Why? The computer revolution altered office work but did not extend into everyday life as had the earlier inventions that brought us electricity, motor vehicles, and the modern kitchen and bathroom. Smart phones were introduced by Blackberry in 2003 and by Apple in 2007, but their uses are primarily to boost consumer enjoyment through social networks and game-playing, not a part of the market economy that creates jobs and pays wages.

Why has productivity growth been so mediocre, a 0.5 percent annual pace since 2010? In my view this has occurred because most of the benefits of the digital revolution were over by 2005. Everywhere you look, from corporate offices to check-in desks at doctor, dentist, and veterinarian offices, the equipment on the desks is the same as in 2005, as is most of the software.

This slackening of the pace of economic growth due to the minor impact of new innovations has both a pessimistic and an optimistic aspect. Slow productivity growth dampens the ability of business firms to provide wage increases to their workers. But slow productivity growth also means that steadily growing output continues to provide new jobs, 15.5 million of which have been created in the U.S. since early 2010.

But how can so many jobs be created in a world of technological hype of robots taking over the economy? Aren’t robots about to decimate jobs, throwing half the population out of work as has been predicted to occur over the next decade by the two Oxford economists in 2013, Carl Frey and Michael Osborne?

Robots are nothing new; the first industrial robot was introduced by General Motors in 1961, and by the mid-1990’s robots had a major role in automobile factories, welding together body parts and freeing human workers from the noxious fumes of the auto paint shop. But robots have made little impact outside of manufacturing. Even Amazon’s high-tech warehouses use robots just to move shelves to human workers, who hand-select the items to be shipped as well as the packing material, and pack the shipments by hand.

But outside of manufacturing and wholesale warehouses, robots are hard to find. I play a game called “find the robot.” In my daily strolls in and out of supermarkets, restaurants, doctor and dentist offices, my nearby hospital, offices in my own university, and the vast amount of employment involving elementary and secondary teachers, personal trainers, and old age caretakers, I have yet to find a robot.

In my journeys, the closest thing I have found to the introduction of a robot in the service sector is that in a local casual dining restaurant, there are kiosks on the tables to allow patrons to pay their bills without human intervention. But offsetting that is the fact that my local supermarket recently removed its self-checkout electronic kiosks to be replaced by human express checkout agents, apparently due to excessive fraud as customers slid expensive items by the dumb credulity of the self-checkout kiosks.

The Frey and Osborne pessimism about jobs is total fiction. They predict over the next decade that 55 percent of airline pilot jobs will be eliminated. Sorry, but government regulations require two pilots in a commercial aircraft, and a switch to one pilot per aircraft is nowhere in sight. They predict that 92 percent of retail checkout clerk jobs will be eliminated, but there is no robot-like replacement of retail clerks in sight beyond the 30-year-old invention of bar-code scanning.

Surely multiple-function robots will be developed, but it will be a long and gradual process before robots outside of manufacturing and wholesaling become a significant factor in replacing human jobs in the service, transportation or construction sectors. And it is in those sectors that the slowness of productivity growth is dragging down the economy’s overall performance.

My book concludes that the rapid economic growth of the mid-20th century cannot be repeated. Those “Great Inventions” were too important and too pervasive to happen again anytime soon.  But let us not forget, the corollary of slow productivity growth is the rapid creation of jobs, as we have witnessed in the last six years and will enjoy for the foreseeable future.

Robert J. Gordon is professor in social sciences at Northwestern University and the author of The Rise and Fall of American Growth, one of six books on the shortlist for the 2016 Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award, to be announced Nov. 22


A robot from South Korea took home the $2 million first-place prize after winning the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Robotics Challenge Finals.

The DRC-Hubo robot from Team KAIST was much faster than the other robots, completing the eight tasks in a winning time of 44 minutes, 28 seconds on the eight tasks.

The DRC is a competition of robot systems and software teams vying to develop robots capable of assisting humans in responding to natural and man-made disasters.  It was designed to be extremely difficult.  Participating teams, representing some of the most advanced robotics research and development organizations in the world, are collaborating and innovating on a very short timeline to develop the hardware, software, sensors, and human-machine control interfaces that will enable their robots to complete a series of challenge tasks selected by DARPA for their relevance to disaster response.

Technologies resulting from the DRC will transform the field of robotics and catapult forward development of robots featuring task-level autonomy that can operate in the hazardous, degraded conditions common in disaster zones.

Amazon is already  using robots in its latest warehouse to make immense savings in people, warehouse space, time to process orders and eliminate mistakes.

Christians, particularly in business and education, need to be aware of the speed with which this is occurring and pray and adapt accordingly. How we deal with this rapid technology change is what is critical to God. How we look after and equip our employees is foremost.

Bill Gates has prophesied that robots will be as commonplace in 2025 as computers are today. Five years ago we spent as much time on computers as people now spend on mobile devices. Perhaps five years from now people will spend more time interacting with robots than they now do with mobile devices.

Advanced Manufacturing Forum signals hope for the future in Southern Sydney, Australia

Two Southern Sydney Business organisations, Shire Biz and Southern Strength. put on a first for Southern Sydney

Advanced Manufacturing Forum”.

It was opened by the Hon Bob Baldwin Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Industry who outlined the Industry Competitiveness Agenda announced by the Prime Minister last Tuesday which identifies advanced manufacturing as as area where Australia can be highly competitive on the international stage.

“The development of a Sutherland Advanced Manufacturing Business Centre is a wonderful initiative; it shows an enormous sense of commitment that sits squarely on the page with our national agenda,” Mr Baldwin said.

” The local proposal to produce a range of robots and robotic components at a new centre, based at Lucas Heights, will enable new and established local businesses to strengthen their expertise in additive manufacturing , advanced material science, nanotechnology, nuclear science and information and communication technologies.

Lucas Heights is an ideal location, as it already hosts a nucleus of science and technology providers including ANSTO and CSIRO. The University of Wollongongs, Australian Centre for Electro -materials Sciences is also not too far away

Further information on the government’s new Industry Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda can be found at /Pages/Industry-Growth-Centres.aspx#header

The line up of speakers at the Forum was impressive:

Professor Gordon Wallace of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (Intelligent Polymer Research Institute) in Woollongong. It also specializes in nanotechnology research.

He spoke on Materials Science Development which included:

3D Printing of metal electrodes and High Resolution Metal Prototyping.

Nanostructured Electromaterials for water splitting – catalyst accelerates hydrogen from water eight fold and solar cell generates oxygen from water upon illumination with sunlight.

Their engagement with Clinicians on product development was impressive – Prof. Graeme Clark on an Advanced Cochlea Implant Electrode, with Prof. Peter Choong on Nerve/Muscle/Bone/Cartilage Regeneration and Prof. Mark Cook on Epilepsy Detection and control.

Build the Printers to Build the Structures including Structural (Bio Functional) Components such as 3D Printed Chitosan to provide an infrapatellar fat pad for knee surgery. An inkjet printer that can print cells even adipose stem cells and 3D Bioprinting of parts for bodies.

It showed this facility has immense capabilities with materials processing and device fabrication with multiple materials.

Dr Paul Di Petro MD of the Australian Institute of Nuclear Science and Engineering.

ANSTO employs more than 1100 staff : 250 with PhDs.

It is encouraged to work with industry on projects which can employ its expertise e.g as part of the Defence Materials Technology Centre to improve existing metallic armour, development of new armour materials and design of future armour platforms.

Two of the speakers were from companies in the Southern region that are using advanced technologies to grow their businesses.

Kevin Cullen MD Breseight Engineering is using four 3D Printers to make products for a wide range of uses but notably surgery particularly maxillofacial reconstruction and also for Dynamic learning at all levels.

Steve Britton MD Britton Maritime Systems spoke on the importance of connecting with the right partners (worldwide) in order to obtain the expertise you need. It is vital you also have expertise to contribute to the partnership. Steve has a niche market “Excellence in Military and Para Military Craft”. For such a market low cost is ordinarily not an issue.

Anthony Harrington Business Development NDC Automation spoke on Robotics and its growing importance particularly in storage and movement of goods.

Kiva Systems recently installed by Amazon reveals the future of warehousing. Rather than humans fetching, robots bring selected items as per customer order. All fork lifts are robotic. The warehouse operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. At night the warehouse functions in the dark, no lights are needed for robots to work. They operate by magnetic dots on the floor.

As expected the use of robots has reduced costs substantially – greater accuracy, increased productivity, no human injuries, less product damage. Articulated robots now can perform many more functions; sense, act and yes even think.

Sam Bucolo Prof. Design & Innovation UTS: Design Innovation Research Centre. Sam’s message was basically your organisation needs to be a design led organisation.

A combination of activities which focus on building design as a leadership capability, broader workforce skill development in using design thinking and innovation programs focusing on business model and customer experience to complement technology research will be required.


“Have a vision for growth in your business based around  deep customer insights.”

Expand this vision with your customers and stakeholders.

Map these insights to all aspects of your business. Applied through a deductive thinking mindset.


  • How traditional manufacturers have progressed to more advanced manufacturing technologies
  • How you can join in this journey at minimal capital costs.
  • How you can participate in the supply chain for the rapidly growing robotics industry.
  • What to look for in harnessing international IP for your business.
  • How to develop business plans and sustainable competitive advantage in the new environment.
  • What is on the scientific horizon of material and nuclear sciences for manufacturers.