Leave it to Baxter

May 30, 2014 admin

Baxter_RobotSome day I hope to retire. It could be five years, more likely 10. I’m looking forward to afternoons sitting by the pool, listening to Jimmy Buffett and enjoying a cold, refreshing beverage. But then again, if the financial markets don’t cooperate …

With the slow-growth economy and the low-yield investment environment, it won’t be easy. And, of course, there is a steady stream of gloom and doom reports predicting the demise of U.S. economic growth. Economist Robert Gordon, for example, predicts a few decades of slow growth based on four major headwinds: demography (more retirees, fewer workers); lower levels of education; increasing income inequality; and government debt. Yes, these are all major issues that will need to be addressed.

However, being an eternal optimist, I prefer the findings of Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler, authors of Abundance — The Future Is Better Than You Think.

In the book, the authors document how progress in artificial intelligence, robotics, infinite computing, ubiquitous broadband networks, digital manufacturing, nanomaterials, synthetic biology and many other exponentially growing technologies will enable us to make greater gains in the next two decades than we have in the previous 200 years. According to the authors, we will soon have the ability to meet and exceed the basic needs of every man, woman, and child on the planet.

And I can’t help but get excited when I read about advancements in technology and new applications and products. If you’re interested in such things, I recommend you read Accenture Technology Vision 2014 Report to get an idea of the technology trends that will affect individuals, corporations and the economy. The advancement of concepts such as the Internet of Things, 3D printing and artificial intelligence will shape the future.

Being a fan of sci-fi movies, I have my reservations about robotics — in the movies the technology always seems to go awry — but am excited about the possibilities.

One such example is a robot named Baxter, a product of Rethink Robotics. Baxter is an entirely new type robot that is redefining the way robots can be used in manufacturing environments. There’s no programming required, the $25,000 robot is capable of handling a range of competitive tasks, and line workers can train Baxter manually.

A Feb. 17 USA Today article noted how Baxter worked 2,160 consecutive hours (90 days) in a Hatfield, Pa., injection molding factory, “grabbing plastic parts off the line, placing them in a box and separating them with inserts, then counting the items to make sure each box was exactly the same” — tasks that would typically require six employees. Manufacturers that previously outsourced jobs overseas can now use affordable robots to do menial, repetitive tasks cheaper, faster and safer in their U.S. plants.

Who knows, maybe one day soon, they will produce a lower cost home version of Baxter. I’m already considering the possibilities …

“Oh, Baxter, another margarita, please.”

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LarryFinalwebv2Larry Gray is editorial director of Institutional Real Estate, Inc.

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