Issue link: http://read.ca.pwc.com/i/346337
26 Up front Summer 2014 Hi, robots As humanlike machines learn to work smarter on the factory floor and in the home, people will learn to like them In the future, after you get married, you'll buy a house, a car and a robot. " " To Rendall, a robot is any machine that automates a task, like the Roomba self-directed vacuum cleaner. However, many robots are "dumb," says Hoda ElMaraghy, a Professor of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems at the University of Windsor and Canada Research Chair in Manufacturing Systems. They do one easy task and have simple sensors; for example, the Roomba's sensors prompt it to back up after hitting a wall. The robots of the future will be far more complex and may even be able to think for themselves. The big concern about robots is that they'll put millions of people out of work. By 2034, robotics and other computerization could replace 47 per cent of U.S. jobs, according to a 2013 University of Oxford study. Rendall admits that automation will make some jobs obsolete, but he says it will also create new ones by improving output capacity and boosting gross domestic product. Learning on the job Automation has been a big part of manufacturing for years, but there may come a day when nobody has to oversee the machines. Led by Germany, European governments, companies and research institutions have poured billions of research and development dollars into Industry 4.0, a high-tech strategy to make machines in factories talk to each other and adapt without human intervention. The plan: a person would tell the robots what they need to do and let them take it from there. If the factory ran out of a certain material or a part broke, the robots would be able to adjust their tasks accordingly. This "intelligent" factory would have "sensors embedded in just about every piece of machinery and product that's produced," says ElMaraghy. "They can read data and emit data for other sensors to read and do something about." With robots deciding among themselves how to fix problems, production would always be running at full capacity. But don't expect factories to adopt this technology soon. In a survey by Germany's Forschungsunion Wirtschaft – Wissenschaft, an advisory council on innovation policy, 70 per cent of the companies and universities polled said it won't go live until 2025. Behind the wheel As automation technology improves, cars, buses and trucks will no longer need human drivers. The driverless cars that Google is already road-testing are robots, Rendall says. He thinks consumers will be able to buy such vehicles by 2020, at the latest. Mining companies are working with Clearpath to create specialized driverless vehicles. As mines grow deeper, these robots will be able to test for structural weaknesses, Rendall explains. They might also extract minerals themselves someday, especially in mines that are uncomfortably hot and tough to navigate. At your service Sooner, rather than later, robots will play domestic servant by loading the dishwasher and mopping the floors. In 2010 a robot at the University of California, Berkeley, took 30 minutes to fold a towel; a year later it could do it in six minutes. Such technology will vastly improve the lives of elderly and disabled people, ElMaraghy says. Whether or not robots eventually become true companions to their masters, she doesn't think they'll replace human beings. "We're going to put these to good use and use them to our advantage," ElMaraghy contends. "It's to better the quality of life." Uf One day robots will take over the Earth. We'll probably thank them: these machines won't be free-thinking bots from movies like The Terminator. Although they may be eerily humanlike, they should make our lives easier. "In the future, after you get married, you'll buy a house, a car and a robot," predicts Matt Rendall, Co-Founder and CEO of Clearpath Robotics Inc., a Kitchener, Ont.-based developer of driverless vehicles for eventual use in mining, agriculture and other industries. Companies are already spending billions on robotics. Last November, Apple Inc. announced that it was allocating $10.5-billion (U.S.) to buy robots and other machines that will help make its computers and gadgets. Search engine giant Google Inc. acquired seven robot-related companies in 2013, including Rethink Robotics, Inc., whose long-armed Baxter machine can perform repetitive tasks. Special feature | Game-changing technologies Robotics Baxter, a behaviour-based robot designed by Rethink Robotics for use in manufacturing environments.