Rodney Brooks: "Will Our Consumer Goods Always Be Manufactured By Hand?"
Rodney Brooks, Chairman and CTO of Heartland Robotics; Panasonic Professor of Robotics Emeritus, MIT CSAIL
Keynote speaker at MIT LGO conference on "The Future of Manufacturing in the U.S." (May 8, 2012)
Thus far, robots in manufacturing have turned out to be very capital intensive, hard to use, dangerous to be around, and of very little use to either small, flexible, or low-volume manufacturers. Meanwhile non-industrial robots which were developed later in time for fresh markets in the military, fulfillment centers, floor cleaning, and in medical fields, have the reverse of those characteristics. They are low cost, easy for people to use, safe, and have found favor in homes and small companies. These new robots capitalize on advances in IT, sensors, and intelligent algorithms.
The pressures for responsive short supply chains, for keeping innovation close to manufacturing, for protection of intellectual property, for battling high oil costs in transporting finished goods, and for protecting the US balance of trade, all provide opportunities for those same advances to be applied to manufacturing and replace the by-hand methods that can never again be economic in the US. There is a reboot of how robots and smart machines can be used in industrial settings, with the potential to change the economics of manufacturing worldwide and to again change the loci of manufacturing. There are many small companies working on a large variety of ideas in technologies and channels to market. It feels a lot like the early days of the transition from mainframes to personal computers.