Boston Dynamics “Stretch robot designed to assist in warehouse operations. Image via Bostondynamics.com
Well, the day is here. We all had a hearty, amazed laugh watching Boston Dynamics create little robot dogs and oddly human-shaped mechanical armatures that could do full gymnastics routines. We even dared to imagine the possibilities as we watched their horse-shaped robot open doors and pour cups of juice.
It was only a matter of time. What practical applications could these near-magical, neigh uncanny valley robots bear in the world? They could aid accessibility for disabled individuals. They could aid in dangerous work environments to reduce human harm. They could aid soldiers on battlefields. They could engage in deep-forest recues to find lost hikers.
And… they could also become the next wave of Amazon's workforce amid increasing staffing issues and a 100% employee churn rate. In short, the answer to workers leaving, unionizing or burning out over time is to either lighten the heavier work tasks or replace the human element altogether. Surely there's a Twilight Zone episode about this? Boston Dynamics has engaged in recent talks with warehouse operators and shipping companies to provide in-house robotics to bolster workforces. “They have almost 100 percent turn-over in logistics jobs like picking and packing boxes,” Robert Playter, CEO of Boston Dynamics told Yahoo Finance Canada at the Collision tech conference in Toronto. “We’ve definitely seen with our industrial or warehouse customers that interest in robotics has only increased during the pandemic.”
For those of us who don't follow industrial infrastructure news (insert snore) manufacturing giant, Hyundai Motor Company, acquired an 80% stake in Boston Dynamics last year. Playter is optimistic the new majority owner will help commercialize its robots with its expertise in large-scale manufacturing. “They're going to help us create these things more efficiently, and lower the cost,'' he said. “By the end of this year, we'll have about 1,000 robots out with customers.”
Amidst discussion surrounding potential harm to human workforces and unfair reductions in jobs, Playter commented, “I think a lot of the manual work will be done by robots. But robots aren't as smart as people yet, and you have to deal with unexpected circumstances.”
As Hyundai begins the process of ramping up manufacturing of Boston Dynamics designs, we can watch in real-time as these once fun feats of robotics that graced YouTube are now giving rise to mechanical workforces.
We can't help but wonder what comes next in the age of robo-workforces… What year was Robo Cop set in again?
Stay informed, Science Lover.
Bonus Question: What late-night Amazon order of yours is the robot dog probably going to fetch? For us, it's probably yet another pair of headphones we will lose or destroy.