Trend is toward more robots

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

We may not have our jet packs or flying cars, but while they might not look like the Jestons' Rosie, robot vacuum cleaners are not uncommon, prowling our homes and terrorizing pets while cleaning their hair from the floors.

Automation is taking over more and more of the mundane tasks in our lives, from controlling the thermostat to parallel parking our cars -- self-driving cars are under development.

Nebraska voters recently approved a boost in the minimum wage, and while it was a modest one, it will help put more pressure on businesses to substitute microchips and servos for flesh-and-blood workers whenever possible.

The Boston Consulting Group is predicting that the industrial robot industry will grow 10 percent a year in the world's 25-biggest export nations through 2025, compared to 2-3 percent now.

The reasons are simple: South Korea expects labor costs to be cut by 33 percent a year through "hiring" of robots; Japan 25 percent, Canada 24 percent and 22 percent in the United States and Taiwan.

While 10 percent of jobs that can be automated have already been taken by robots, they are expected to hold 23 percent of those jobs by 2025, according to Boston Consulting.

Those same robots will help reduce the costs of their own manufacturing, according to the release.

The cost of owning and operating a robotic spot welder, for instance, dropped from $182,000 to $133,000 last year, and $103,000 by 2025.

They'll be more adaptable, reacting to their environment the same way cars with collision avoidance systems can prevent a crash.

The trend raises questions, such as what kind of jobs entry-level employees will be able to find.

And, once the products are manufactured by robots, how many humans will have the money to buy them?

Will a new Luddite movement spring forth, this time smashing circuit boards instead of power looms?

On a more reasonable tack, it should aim more students into the tech field -- servicing robots that do the repetitive work, rather than training to do the actual work itself.

Whatever our opinion about robots, few of us will miss running the vacuum or parallel parking our cars once Rosie takes over the job.

Check out the Boston Consulting Group release here.

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