Tag Archives: ROBOT

Fear Not the Friendly Robot

As I read about the first robot that rang the Nasdaq bell to kick off the robotics industry stock index, I instantly remembered a man who spoke up after Dale’s presentation during Q&A at the first-ever East Bay Mini Maker Faire.


Standing awkwardly near the door, he identified himself as a warehouse union worker speaking on behalf of his many colleagues who were fearful about the increasing use of robots. “They’re going to take away our jobs. What do you do when you have to raise a family and pay your mortgage? And it’s not like the technology is easy to understand. I’ve tried to read up on it but it’s hard to pick up as a new skill. You have all this new technology coming in but there are people who don’t understand it and they’re losing their jobs because of it. The technology is new but you have the same family, the same mortgage. What do you have to say about that?”

I empathized with the fear of losing one’s job yet I found the increasing use of robots in everyday life to some degree comforting. My aunt was a union worker who toiled under intense work conditions.  After several years, like many of her colleagues, she had to go on disability as a result of slowly deteriorating her joints on the job.  She had to undergo painful surgery, her employer had to pay expensive worker’s comp costs in addition to spending the time and money required to replace a good employee. Everyone lost.

Robots are being built and tested to execute jobs that are too dangerous, injurious, inconvenient, or nearly impossible for humans.  Like any well-designed technology, robots are meant to make life better in some way, whether it’s safer, more convenient, or more enhanced.

Meet Leonardo1 Robot, created by Martin Wojtczyk, in partnership with Bayer Healthcare, Institut für Klinische Chemie und Pathobiochemie am Klinikum rechts der Isar der TU München, and Festo Didactic.
Meet Leonardo1 Robot, created by Martin Wojtczyk, in partnership with Bayer Healthcare and TU München.

When a company replaces humans with robots, workers can take up more advanced or fulfilling jobs given the proper training, companies can see increased production, and consumers may experience lower prices as a result of operating efficiency.  Workers are no longer bound to a job that can cause permanent injuries, freeing them to explore whatever it is they were placed on this earth to be. Not just to be “two legs and two hands” to labor but to create and express.

The Maker Movement, an uprising of individual ideas and expression, would welcome anyone with open arms. It is not exclusively technology oriented but includes anyone and everyone from all walks of life.  David T. Lang, once unemployed then became co-founder of OpenROV, wrote a book about his journey and how to join the maker movement.

David Lang and Eric Stackpole explain the inner dynamics of their underwater robot, OpenROV, at this year's East Bay Mini Maker Faire in Oakland, California.
David Lang and Eric Stackpole explain the inner dynamics of their underwater robot, OpenROV, at this year’s East Bay Mini Maker Faire in Oakland, California.
OpenROV made its humble beginnings on Kickstarter.com, a crowdsourcing platform.
OpenROV made its humble beginnings on Kickstarter.com, a crowdsourcing platform.

As software continues to enhance all facets of everyday life, the new economy will be one driven not by labor itself but by the powerful minds and creativity of humankind. Thank goodness the tech industry is arguably the most democratic and progressive. With more and more tech events offering free passes to anyone interested, Maker Faires sprouting to more and more cities all over the world, and free high-quality classes offered online through sites like UdemyCodecademyUdacity, and Coursera, anyone can be anything they want to.

Find the Maker in You.
Find the Maker in You.

LEGO Mindstorms EV3 More Than a Toy

This robot, built from the rubble of the Mindstorms EV3 kit, can recognize objects in its environment and balance on two wheels on its own.

Long ago when I was in elementary school I often saw colorful LEGO bricks scattered throughout the play corners of my classrooms.  But I never did see anyone build anything out of them other than small, incomplete rectangular blocks of reds, blues, and yellows.  These sadly splayed little plastic bricks never did catch my interest as a kid as I darted for the great outdoors on my bike instead.  Fast forward to my adulthood and I married one of LEGOs biggest fans.  When the much awaited Mindstorms EV3 robotics kit arrived at our doorstep my husband’s eyes lit up in sheer delight.  As I curiously watched him from afar excitedly unwrap all three boxes and the many little plastic bags inside containing hundreds of pieces I couldn’t help but come a little closer to take a look, drawn by his infectious enthusiasm.  I was also curious to discover how the mind boggling mess of so many tiny pieces could come together to form a robot he was so looking forward to build.

As Martin noticed that I was watching him meticulously compartmentalize and organize everything, he then invited me to build something with him.  Ok sure, why not?  I’ve often discovered that when life offers a new experience that piques my curiosity for whatever reason I better take it because it usually leads to a nice surprise, like finding that cool toy inside a Cracker Jack box.  The cool surprises I discovered after hours of learning, laughing, building, and working together with Martin was a deeper understanding and appreciation of the engineering discipline as well as how the childhood toys that became our closest companions cultivated our skills through adulthood.

The EV3 set is much more than just the colored bricks I remember from elementary school.  It has evolved to include highly varied and detailed parts like studs, girders, and beams, some of which look similar to each other.  I learned that when I put in one piece the wrong way I could compromise the entire structure.  Then I realized a fundamental truth about engineering.  This discipline requires you to pay attention to the smallest details all the way.  There is no improvising or else you weaken the integrity of your creation.  Everything is deliberate and every building block has its place and purpose.  Engineering is not like cooking, social work, or some situations in business where at times you have to improvise and be quick on your feet.  Another fundamental difference I realized between the engineering field whence Martin came and the social work discipline I studied is the dimension and orientation of time.  Whereas a social worker’s job is to dig into the past to deconstruct a problem to find a solution, an engineer’s job is to build something to use for the future.  This is one reality I see and love time and time again when I attend technology conferences, meetups, and events with Martin.  Technology is solutions-based with a focus on the future.  It survives and thrives on creating solutions, whether for work, home, or play.

We also came to a surprising realization that some of our childhood companions cultivated some of our best skills today.  During our building time Martin shared that as a kid he loved his LEGO sets so much he could spend hours with them.  Guided by interest alone he eventually went on to study computer science and robotics, graduating with a Ph.D in Informatics.  As a kid I had varied interests but remember receiving a lot of journals as gifts.  I was a journal magnet.  When new neighbors moved in they would give me journals.  Relatives, friends, coworkers continued to shower me with journals for holidays, birthdays, and graduations.  I never asked for them but they kept coming my way.  So I filled these journals with the days of my life and went on to ace every paper throughout my education, convince the greater powers that be, and touch hearts in written word to this day.

The LEGO Mindstorms EV3 robotics kit is more than a toy.  For me it has served to open yet another door into the culture and modi operandi of engineers building our future.

My nephew loves to build anything from jets to pirate ships. His current project is a treehouse. A real treehouse.