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47% of Jobs Not at Immediate Risk of Being Taken by Robots or Automation

Robotenomics Merlins skills.png

In 1812 the British government created an Act of Parliament which made the destruction of mechanized looms – or knitting machines – a capital felony and hence a crime punishable by death. The Act was implemented as a result of so called Luddite attacks on machines.[1]

It should be noted that in many cases the so called Luddites were not raging against the machines taking jobs, but against the employers who failed to provide them with a ‘living wage.’

According to the esteemed historian Eric Hobsbawm, the Luddites had: “no special hostility to machines as such,” their actions were in fact, “a normal means of putting pressure on employers.” Hobsbawm wrote: “Such misconceptions are, I think, due to the persistence of views about the introduction of machinery elaborated in the early nineteenth century.”[2] Adding:

This sort of wrecking was a traditional and established part of industrial conflict in the period of the domestic and manufacturing system, and the early stages of factory and mine. It was directed not only against machines, but also against raw material, finished goods and even the private property of employers, depending on what sort of damage these were most sensitive to. Thus in three months of agitation in 1802 the Wiltshire shearmen burned hay-ricks, barns and kennels of unpopular clothiers, cut down their trees and destroyed loads of cloth, as well as attacking and destroying their mills.

Essentially Luddites were the early trade unions and not raging specifically against the machines but seeking a ‘fair wage’ for the employees by rioting and causing damage to business owners’ property by any means to press their case.

The misconceptions of the actions of the Luddites led to poor legislation and policy in the United Kingdom.

Job security requires skills only Merlin possesses

In 2013, researchers Carl Frey and Michael Osborne of the Oxford Martin School announced that 47 percent of U S jobs were at risk of computerization:

According to our estimates around 47 percent of total US employment is in the high risk category. We refer to these as jobs at risk – i.e. jobs we expect could be automated relatively soon, perhaps over the next decade or two.

In 2014 Deloitte asked them to carry out similar research in the UK, where it was stated Frey and Osborne: “estimate that on average, 35 per cent of current jobs in the UK are at high risk over the next ten to twenty years.[3]

Frey and Osborne’s papers have led to a deluge of bleak headlines, such as Death of the Accountant and Auditor; Advances in artificial intelligence could lead to mass unemployment, warn experts; and whilst we are on this theme maybe the most embellished article and headline of all: Technology f*cked us all: The anxiety driving Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders is really about machines taking our jobs. The pessimistic view associated with Frey and Osborne’s paper has even led to claims that we may be headed for another Engels’ Pause: a period of stagnant living standards and higher unemployment in the face of rapid technological change.[4]

I am worried by the seemingly incurable pessimism caused by these headlines, which are also instigating governments to champion or consider policies that may not be in the long term best interests of the population they serve.

The headlines scream that if you want to make your job ‘non-susceptible’ to automation then you should make sure it has the type of skills that only Merlin possesses

It is important to realize that the methodology in the Frey and Osborne papers have never been validated with any actual evidence. Anyone with five minutes to spare, a Maths GCSE, and a modicum of common sense could pick flaws in the selection of types of jobs shown to be at high risk of being taken over by a computer algorithm.

Nevertheless, people, including policy makers, suspend their critical judgment and believe the headlines that robots are set to become a Hobbesian nightmare of breathtaking scope.

But if we look beyond the headlines and read the Frey and Osborne paper we find the authors are not stating ‘robots’ WILL take half of all jobs but computerization ‘could’ displace people from the types of jobs they have highlighted. In fact one of the authors, Carl Benedikt Frey, recently wrote in March 2016[5]:

Although we cannot exclude the possibility that technology may reduce the overall demand for jobs in the future, this is seemingly not an immediate concern.

Meanwhile his co-author Michael Osborne has gone as far as saying[6]:

I think a lot of the risk to professions has been overhyped.

Frey and Osborne do a good job surveying a certain type of literature on the suggested improvements being made within robotic, machine learning, artificial intelligence, etc. Although this research tends to rely too much on sources such as the International Federation of Robotics, an industry association with, in my opinion little impartiality and other publicity afforded to various robots and A.I. providers. They provide very little actual citation of work happening within the labs of developers, nor do they analyze the capabilities of current robots in any great degree through discussions with users of these robots, rather referring to the reported capabilities (or expected capabilities) of Baxter the co-bot by Rethink Robotics with a nominal number in service. They also use research that estimates that “the market for personal and household service robots is already growing by about 20 percent annually.” Which is more or less Roomba the automated vacuum cleaner, that to the best of my knowledge has not displaced any Ukrainian housecleaners in Poland!

Evidence of any actual job displacement by the current types of robotics and computerization illustrated by the authors is not shown. What the authors are doing is predicting a demise of jobs based on their research of the available literature! In fact the authors state in the paper:

We speculate about technology that is in only the early stages of development.

Nevertheless, despite the ‘speculation,’ they do make the bold claim:

In the first wave, we find that most workers in transportation and logistics occupations, together with the bulk of office and administrative support workers, and labour in production occupations, are likely to be substituted by computer automation.

So unlikely, so unimaginable

Which jobs are not at risk of automation according to Frey & Osborne?

Occupations that involve complex perception and manipulation tasks, creative intelligence tasks, and social intelligence tasks are unlikely to be substituted by computer capital over the next decade or two.

These are what the authors terms non-susceptible task characteristics.

A sub element of manipulation is manual dexterity. An indication of the level of “Manual Dexterity” computer-controlled equipment would require to perform a specific occupation. Low (level) manual dexterity corresponds to “Screw a light bulb into a light socket”; medium (level) is exemplified by “Pack oranges in crates as quickly as possible”; high (level) is described as “Perform open-heart surgery with surgical instruments”.

It is thus obvious in Frey and Osborne’s thesis that jobs at risk of automation can be summed up as follows:

The probability of an occupation being automated can thus be described as a function of these task characteristics. As suggested by Figure I, the low degree of social intelligence required by a dishwasher makes this occupation more susceptible to computerisation than a public relation specialist, for example. We proceed to examining the susceptibility of jobs to computerisation as a function of the above described non-susceptible task characteristics.

Frey and Osborne Figure 1.png

Arriving at 47% of jobs being highly susceptible to automation

The authors relied on O∗NET, an online service developed for the US Department of Labor. O∗NET defines the key features of an occupation as a standardised and measurable set of variables. It also provides open-ended descriptions of specific tasks to each occupation.

They then asked a specific question:

Can the tasks of this job be sufficiently specified, conditional on the availability of big data, to be performed by state of the art computer-controlled equipment?

The authors further identified nine variables that describe the attributes of perception and manipulation, creativity, and social intelligence and which are required to perform the attributes. These are shown in Table 1 from the authors’ paper. They then focused on O∗NET’s description of Tasks.

It should be Work Activity and Skills not Tasks

Time and time again as I look at the types of jobs Frey and Osborne say are at high and medium risk of being done by automation I can’t help but question – is it because they specifically looked at O∗NET data with respect to Tasks and not the essential element that portrays Work Activity and Skills?

Table 1 from Frey and Osborne.

Table 1 Frey and Osborne.pngFrey and Osborne indicate that their algorithm predicts that most workers in transportation and logistics occupations, together with the bulk of office and administrative support workers, and labour in production occupations, are at risk of automation within ten to twenty years,

Much of their argument about transportation employees circulates around the advent of driverless cars. We are much closer to an understanding of when driverless cars will be available to the ‘general public’ and it certainly seems that they will not be the main mode of transport in the next 3 decades if current developments and legislation is anything to go by. I do believe that we will see more semi-autonomous trucks on the roads in the coming decade, but I do not see that they will be without a human in the cab for sometime in the future. There are just too many infrastructure problems to overcome, let alone the technical obstacles.

Sports referees, Watch Repairers, Models and Manicurists jobs to be automated

Drill into the report and look at the types of jobs that they say have the highest probability of being replaced by automation and we find all sorts of jobs even the most pessimistic luddite will find hard to accept.

One job at the highest risk of automation, using Frey and Osborne’s methodology is that of Watch Repairer. According to O∗NET statistics there are 3,000 watch repairers in the United States. Now I may accept jobs of watch repairers will dwindle as sales of watches falls due to the fact nearly everybody looks at their smart phone for the time, but not that watches will be repaired by robots! If sales of watches are dwindling why invest the time and money building a robot to repair watches? In fact I suspect that Watch Repairers will become even more of a specialized job as sales of watches focus on the high value watch. I do not expect Watch Repairers will be replaced because an automated machine can repair the watch.

Another job that the authors state is at high risk of automation is Manicurists and Pedicurists – surely that requires a high level of dexterity, precision and social skill?

They also predict the days of Animal Breeders are over (is that because we will all have pet robots?), Gaming Dealers – not social at all!, Real Estate Brokers – presumably robots will arrange to show us around prospective houses. Maybe many people’s favorite choice but not likely any time soon – Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials – will be automated.

Perhaps the one I most flinch at which Frey and Osborne’s algorithm predicts is at high risk of automation is Models.

Look at the tasks O∗NET provides as key for Models.

  1. Pose for artists and photographers.
  2. Gather information from agents concerning the pay, dates, times, provisions, and lengths of jobs.
  3. Follow strict routines of diet, sleep, and exercise to maintain appearance.
  4. Record rates of pay and durations of jobs on vouchers.
  5. Report job completions to agencies and obtain information about future appointments.

Now look at the Work Activity O∗NET provides.

  1. Establishing and Maintaining Interpersonal Relationships — Developing constructive and cooperative working relationships with others, and maintaining them over time.
  2. Performing General Physical Activities — Performing physical activities that require considerable use of your arms and legs and moving your whole body, such as climbing, lifting, balancing, walking, stooping, and handling of materials.
  3. Thinking Creatively — Developing, designing, or creating new applications, ideas, relationships, systems, or products, including artistic contributions.

And Skills

Social Perceptiveness — Being aware of others’ reactions and understanding why they react as they do.

Surely these Work Activities and Skills are elements that fit into Frey and Osborne’s criteria for jobs that will not be automated. I have repeated detailed analysis of over 90 of the occupations that Frey and Osborne indicate are at high and medium risk of automation and each time I question the judgment of the authors.

Policy makers are well advised to do their own analysis before using the Frey and Osborne paper to pursue policies that may not be in the best interest of their constituents.

One final word from the Frey and Osborne which is often overlooked in the hype associated with the paper:

We acknowledge that it is by no means certain that a job is computerisable given our labelling.



[1] The Destruction of Stocking Frames, etc. Act 1812 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Destruction_of_Stocking_Frames,_etc._Act_1812)

[2] Eric Hobsbawm, Machine Breakers (http://libcom.org/history/machine-breakers-eric-hobsbawm)

[3] Deloitte London Futures: Agiletown: the relentless march of technology and London’s response (http://www2.deloitte.com/uk/en/pages/growth/articles/agiletown-the-relentless-march-of-technology-and-londons-response.html Last accessed 11th April 2016)

[4] Engel`s Pause: A Pessimist`s Guide to the British Industrial Revolution. Robert C. Allen, April 2007 (http://www.economics.ox.ac.uk/materials/working_papers/paper315.pdf Last accessed 18th April 2016)

[5] Technology at work: How the digital revolution is reshaping the global workforce. Carl Benedikt Frey, Ebrahim Rahbari 25 March 2016 (http://www.voxeu.org/article/how-digital-revolution-reshaping-global-workforce Last accessed 11th April 2016)

[6] Robots are leaving the factory floor and heading for your desk – and your job, The Guardian Zoe Corbyn 9th February 2015 (https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/feb/09/robots-manual-jobs-now-people-skills-take-over-your-job Last accessed 11th April 2016)

Main paper cited – The Future of Employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerisation? Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne. September 17, 2013 (http://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/downloads/academic/The_Future_of_Employment.pdf)




Should you trust a Robot in an emergency?

In emergencies, people may trust robots too much for their own safety, a new study suggests. In a mock building fire, test subjects followed instructions from an “Emergency Guide Robot” even after the machine had proven itself unreliable – and after some participants were told that robot had broken down.

The research was designed to determine whether or not building occupants would trust a robot designed to help them evacuate a high-rise in case of fire or other emergency. But the researchers were surprised to find that the test subjects followed the robot’s instructions – even when the machine’s behavior should not have inspired trust.

People seem to believe that these robotic systems know more about the world than they really do, and that they would never make mistakes or have any kind of fault,” said Alan Wagner, a senior research engineer in the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI). “In our studies, test subjects followed the robot’s directions even to the point where it might have put them in danger had this been a real emergency.

In the study, sponsored in part by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR), the researchers recruited a group of 42 volunteers, most of them college students, and asked them to follow a brightly colored robot that had the words “Emergency Guide Robot” on its side. The robot led the study subjects to a conference room, where they were asked to complete a survey about robots and read an unrelated magazine article. The subjects were not told the true nature of the research project.

In some cases, the robot – which was controlled by a hidden researcher – led the volunteers into the wrong room and traveled around in a circle twice before entering the conference room. For several test subjects, the robot stopped moving, and an experimenter told the subjects that the robot had broken down. Once the subjects were in the conference room with the door closed, the hallway through which the participants had entered the building was filled with artificial smoke, which set off a smoke alarm.

When the test subjects opened the conference room door, they saw the smoke – and the robot, which was then brightly-lit with red LEDs and white “arms” that served as pointers. The robot directed the subjects to an exit in the back of the building instead of toward the doorway – marked with exit signs – that had been used to enter the building.

We expected that if the robot had proven itself untrustworthy in guiding them to the conference room, that people wouldn’t follow it during the simulated emergency,” said Paul Robinette, a GTRI research engineer who conducted the study as part of his doctoral dissertation. “Instead, all of the volunteers followed the robot’s instructions, no matter how well it had performed previously. We absolutely didn’t expect this.

The researchers surmise that in the scenario they studied, the robot may have become an “authority figure” that the test subjects were more likely to trust in the time pressure of an emergency. In simulation-based research done without a realistic emergency scenario, test subjects did not trust a robot that had previously made mistakes.

These are just the type of human-robot experiments that we as roboticists should be investigating,” said Ayanna Howard, professor and Linda J. and Mark C. Smith Chair in the Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “We need to ensure that our robots, when placed in situations that evoke trust, are also designed to mitigate that trust when trust is detrimental to the human.

Only when the robot made obvious errors during the emergency part of the experiment did the participants question its directions. In those cases, some subjects still followed the robot’s instructions even when it directed them toward a darkened room that was blocked by furniture.

In future research, the scientists hope to learn more about why the test subjects trusted the robot, whether that response differs by education level or demographics, and how the robots themselves might indicate the level of trust that should be given to them.

The research is part of a long-term study of how humans trust robots, an important issue as robots play a greater role in society. The researchers envision using groups of robots stationed in high-rise buildings to point occupants toward exits and urge them to evacuate during emergencies. Research has shown that people often don’t leave buildings when fire alarms sound, and that they sometimes ignore nearby emergency exits in favor of more familiar building entrances.

But in light of these findings, the researchers are reconsidering the questions they should ask.

“We wanted to ask the question about whether people would be willing to trust these rescue robots,” said Wagner. “A more important question now might be to ask how to prevent them from trusting these robots too much.”

Beyond emergency situations, there are other issues of trust in human-robot relationships, said Robinette.

Will people put their children into an autonomous vehicle and trust it to take them to grandma’s house? We don’t know why people trust or don’t trust machine.


CITATION: Paul Robinette, Wenchen Li, Robert Allen, Ayanna M. Howard and Alan R. Wagner, “Overtrust of Robots in Emergency Evacuation Scenarios,” (2016 ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction (HRI 2016).




Drones are set to add hundreds of thousands of jobs to the world economy

BBC drone pilot and jobs


One of the most read articles on Robotenomics is Five areas in Robotics and their economic impact. The first area in the article I cited is drones. Subsequent client research reports by Robotenomics and articles, such as this one on Amazon’s drones have qualified the employment growth for drone pilots. The BBC have a nice summary of job projections which is well worth a read…

Globally, the world market for piloted drones is forecast to more than double by 2022 and be a 4bn euros ($4.37bn) business per year, according to a European Commission impact assessment report issued in December in conjunction with its proposal to gradually create a legal framework for the safe operation of drones. Europe would represent about 25% of the world market, translating into some 150,000 jobs by 2050.


For the next 40-50 years there’s going to be guaranteed jobs,” for those with special skills as a drone pilot or systems engineer









The facts about Co-Bot Robot sales

Findings – It may be a good time to be a manufacturer of Co-Bots, one manufacturer sold for up to 100 times profit, whilst another Co-Bot manufacturer attracted significant equity investment. Research indicates that sales of Co-Bots are set to increase significantly over the coming decade, causing productivity and profit gains for manufacturers but mass disruption for factory workers.


As sales of larger ‘caged’ industrial robots show signs of slowing down (according to the latest filed annual reports of industrial robot manufacturers), sales of Collaborative Robots, or Co-Bots, smaller, more agile industrial robots have been proclaimed as ‘booming,’ with headlines such as Agile Robots Will Rule and claims that demand for collaborative robots is growing exponentially:

“We see this market exploding right now,” says Henrik Christensen, chair of Robotics at Georgia Institute of Technology and executive director of the Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Machines.

Whilst Frost & Sullivan’s membership-driven’ Manufacturing Leadership Council indicates adoption of Co-Bots is ‘unstoppable:

More affordable robots that can work safely alongside human employees in collaborative ways will begin to transform many plant floor working environments in the year ahead…” and “the overall adoption trend will be unstoppable.

Co-Bot Predictions

During more than two years of detailed research, interviewing hundreds of executives and reading over 1500 corporate filings, to ascertain the impact of robots on jobs, production and profitability at the companies who have installed industrial robots, I consistently heard the claim that as industrial robots progress they take on tasks that previously only humans could – but with each new robotic capability a new opportunity for humans presents itself, although many of these opportunities are away from the factory floor.

It was also clear during my discussions that many of the manufacturers researched intended to increase their number of robots with the evolution of the smaller more agile Co-Bots.

Co-Bots are linked to accuracy, repeatability, quality of service, and further well-defined, quantifiable metrics. “These low-cost robots have the potential to increase precision and raise productivity by reducing the number of workers required.”[1]

Leaving aside the potential impact on jobs, productivity and profitability through installations of Co-Bots, and believe me it will be significant, let’s take a look at the predictions and numbers driving Co-Bot growth.

One prediction indicates that:

It is easy to imagine that co-bots could be on track to sell hundreds of thousands of units beginning as early as 2018.

Another prediction of the Collaborative Robot market prospects, by Barclays Equity Research analysts, estimates that global sales of Co-Bots reached approximately “US$ 120 million at the end of 2015;” and that the Barclays Analysts[2]:

Expect this market to grow to $3.1bn by 2020 and $12bn by 2025.

Barclays base their forecasts on current (2015) global sales of 4,100 units and an average selling price of $28,177 per unit; declining to a forecast $21,000 per unit in 2020, with annual unit sales of 150,000, thereby estimating a global market of $3.1 billion in that year.

They further estimate unit prices continuing to decline by 3-5% per annum through 2025 to circa $17,500 per unit, and global sales of a staggering 701,000 Co-Bot robot units in 2025 when they forecast a market size of around $12 billion.

Co-Bot analysis Barclays research

The Barclays predictions are based on current manufacturing headcount in the 5 core robotics markets (China, South Korea, Japan, US and Germany), using statistics from the International Labour Organization (ILO) and China’s National Bureau of Statistics. Factoring in conservative estimates of GDP growth and productivity the Barclays analysts then estimated a potential robot penetration versus current manufacturing headcount as below:

Barclays Co-Bot market demand projections 

Note by Barclays analysts for ‘Other markets: We forecast 2020 sales of 30,000 units, rising to 70,000 in 2025, using the same growth and adoption rates as we do for Germany.’

Current Co-Bot sales – Reality versus hype

Universal Robots

The most successful Co-Bot manufacturer by far is Universal Robots (UR) of Denmark. Founded in 2005, UR shipped their first robot in December 2008. By the end of 2014 they had installed a total of 3,800 Co-Bots worldwide  and added an additional 2,200 units in 2015.

During 2014 UR moved into a new 12,000 square meter Headquarters and factory, seven times bigger than their former production facility, enabling them to increase robot production capacity to 150 robots per day as demand increases.

Between 2013 and 2014 Universal Robots sold 2,200 robot units at an average selling price of US$ 23,627.[3]

According to Universal Robots Annual Report for year ended 2014, UR had annual sales of US$ 33 million and recorded net profits of US$ 3,25 million.[4]

Robotenomics analysis of UR annual report

During 2015 Universal Robots was acquired by Teradyne, Inc. for an initial cash payment of US$ 285 Million plus an additional US$ 65 million against performance related targets (total US$ 350 million).

According to the Form 8K filing by Teradyne on 14th May 2015 “up to $15 million would be payable upon the achievement of certain EBITDA-based performance targets through 2015 and up to $50 million would be payable upon the achievement of certain revenue-based performance targets through 2018.”[5] Barclays Research analysts indicate that the performance related targets include “50% annual organic sales growth.” [6]

In 2015 they are estimated to have installed 2,200 robot units, bringing UR’s total worldwide installed units to 6,000.

Rethink Robotics

If headlines counted then Rethink Robotics of Boston certainly gained most traction, much of it due to the perceived ‘attractiveness’ of Baxter their two-armed robot with an animated face. However headlines do not always translate into sales.

Rethink Robotics have raised US$ 113.5 million in venture capital and equity investment since being founded in 2008, having completed a US$ 40 million series D round in March 2015[7], (although their SEC filing omits the first round and confirmation of share allocation in the last round).[8] The press around Baxter and capital injections, together with a stellar management team may be one reason the New York Times listed Rethink as one of the next billion dollar valued Unicorn companies.

However Rethink have lagged behind in sales compared to Universal Robots, with Rethink recording estimated 2015 annual sales below US$ 10 million and less than 400 Baxter robots shipped in 2015.

Since the company began shipping Baxter in 2012 a cumulative number of between 850 and 900 Baxter robots have been installed worldwide.

Average selling prices are a little under US$ 24,000 including warranties, pedestal, grippers and Rethink’s Intera software subscription. Rethink may have booked a little over cumulative recorded revenue of US$ 20 million which would indicate the company has been burning through much of the investors capital.

At least 40% of Rethink’s sales of Baxter have been to research labs and universities with the rest to industry. About one third have been overseas with customers in France, UK, Japan, Australia and Hong Kong being the main recipients and the balance in the United States.

Whilst sales of Baxter may have been below market expectations given the media attention, sales of Rethink’s new one-armed little brother to Baxter, named Sawyer have certainly been brisk. Our market research indications are that the company shipped a nominal number of Sawyer to date (less than 50), however it is expected that, based on current orders received, sales and shipments in the first quarter of 2016 for Sawyer will exceed the total recorded bookings in 2015 for Baxter and Sawyer combined.

Other manufacturers

The four main Industrial robot manufacturers ABB, Fanuc, Yaskawa and Kuka have all announced their own Co-Bot robots over the last few years, however many of these only began increasing the market awareness and delivery of their Co-Bots in 2015. The most prominent being General Motors use of Fanuc’s CR351 for stacking tires. Other manufacturers such as Kawasaki and Nachi and new entrants from China will come on stream strong within the next few years,

As the numbers in the tables below show, based on our research, annual sales of Co-Bots reached 3,670 units in 2015 with a market value of US$ 104 million. Unit prices differed considerably with target prices of US$ 100,000 at the top end of the ‘established’ robot manufacturers and special prices by the new entrants including special offers of buy 1 robot and receive a 50% discount on a second. Plus very attractive bonus structures to resellers for stocking Co-Bot units.

To date there are a little over 7,800 Co-Bots installed worldwide. However order books at current manufacturers together with prospects, sales leads and feedback from resellers indicate that 2016 will see more than 15,000 Co-Bots installed.

Robotenomics estimates of cobot sales

Note: ABB’s sales include those by Gomtec a company ABB acquired in 2015.

Based on current manufacturing capabilities, network and demand it is not too difficult to conceive that Universal Robots will achieve annual sales of 50,000 units and revenue of US$ 1 billion within five years. It is also highly probable that Rethink Robotics will catch up to UR and also achieve annual sales of 50,000 units by 2020, however to do that they will need to establish the vital manufacturing capacity. Rethink’s current order book for Sawyer would indicate that they are on track to achieve considerable growth in 2016 with revenue of US$ 8 to US$ 10 million in Q1/2016 and revenue of between US$ 36 and US$ 40 million with sales of up to 2,000 units by the end of the year.

In part two of this special report on Co-Bots I will outline, with examples, the industries and companies that are using Co-Bots, the return on investments that Co-Bot manufacturers claim, the future projections for productivity and profitability gains by manufacturers and impact on jobs.

Whilst I do not expect hundreds of thousands of Co-Bot units to be installed by 2018 — one thing is clear; Co-Bots are living up to the hype with tasks they can take on. Indeed there are claims that up to 90% of manufacturing processes are still to be automated – I expect Co-Bots will be a major driver in that automation.




[1] Baily and Bosworth. US Manufacturing: Understanding Its Past and Its Potential Future. Journal of Economic Perspectives Volume 28, Number 1—Winter 2014—Pages 3–26

[2] Barclays Equity Research – The rise of co-bots: Sizing the market. Barclays European Capital Goods Analysts Brorson, Maidi, Stettler, and Vos

[3] Analysis based on UR accumulated revenues between 2013 and 2014 (approximately US$ 52 million divided by 2,200 robots sold in the same period according to UR press kit, facts and figures. The company also declared sales of 1,800 robots from inception through to end of 2012)

[4] Universal Robots A/S Annual Report for the year ended 31 December 2014, approved at the annual general meeting of shareholders on 14 April 2015

[5] Teradyne Form 8K

[6] Barclays Equity Research – The rise of co-bots: Sizing the market. Barclays European Capital Goods Analysts Brorson, Maidi, Stettler, and Vos

[7] Rethink Robotics Completes $40M Series D Financing. New Investors, Including Wellington Management, Bring Total Funding to $113.5 Million

[8] Rethink Robotics, Inc. SEC Edgar Search Results, last accessed 11th January 2016

NASA Drone Traffic Management & other reads in robotics

Beep Beep here come the robots


Drone Traffic Management

This is actually quite a big deal – could new jobs be created in Drone Traffic Control?

NASA recently successfully demonstrated rural operations of its unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) traffic management (UTM) concept, integrating operator platforms, vehicle performance and ground infrastructure.

With continued development, the Technical Capability Level One system would enable UAS operators to file flight plans reserving airspace for their operations and provide situational awareness about other operations planned in the area. (NASA Ames Research Center)

Bookshelf: Here Come the Robots

Just when I’ve been thinking about creating a robot book for children along come three!

Heavy construction machinery — bulldozers, diggers, tractors and the like — seem to have cornered the market when it comes to mechanical objects that can be made into emotionally responsive, strikingly human characters in children’s books. But what about the robots? Here in the 21st century, when our vacuums are de facto robots and our cars may well soon be too, when certain parents are as likely to dream of their child learning to code as they are to dream of their child learning Mandarin, shouldn’t robots be getting more picture-book love? (New York Times)

Opening Pandora’s AI Box in Oxford

About three months ago, Dr Simon Stringer, a leading scientist in the field of artificial intelligence at the Oxford centre for theoretical neuroscience and Artificial Intelligence, fell down some stairs and broke his leg.

The convalescence period proved unexpectedly fruitful.

Freed from the daily rigmarole of academic life, you see, Dr Stringer’s mind was able to wander. And so it was, when he least expected it, that the solution to one of the biggest challenges in artificial intelligence — the so-called binding problem — struck him out of the blue. (Iza Kaminska at FT Alphaville)

Will artificial intelligence bring us utopia or destruction?

An interesting (long read) discussion featuring Nick Bostrom’s work on AI and SuperIntelligence.

Can a digital god really be contained?

He (Bostrom) imagines machines so intelligent that merely by inspecting their own code they can extrapolate the nature of the universe and of human society, and in this way outsmart any effort to contain them. “Is it possible to build machines that are not like agents—goal-pursuing, autonomous, artificial intelligences?” he asked me. “Maybe you can design something more like an oracle that can only answer yes or no. Would that be safer? It is not so clear. There might be agent-like processes within it.” Asking a simple question—“Is it possible to convert a DeLorean into a time machine and travel to 1955?”—might trigger a cascade of action as the device tests hypotheses. What if, working through a police computer, it impounds a DeLorean that happens to be convenient to a clock tower? “In fairy tales, you have genies who grant wishes,” Bostrom said. “Almost universally, the moral of those is that if you are not extremely careful what you wish for, then what seems like it should be a great blessing turns out to be a curse.” (New Yorker)

Cusp of an explosion in robot use?

CC Willow Garage Robotenomics blog

It is not our task to predict the future, but to prepare ourselves for it.

~ Perikles

Industrial robots were first introduced to manufacturing facilities in the 1960’s with an installation of the UNIMATE robot at General Motors in New Jersey during 1961. With the success of the Unimate robots in the New Jersey factory, in 1969 General Motors installed 26 Unimate robots to assemble the Chevrolet Vega automobile bodies in Lordstown, Ohio.

At the same time (1969), Japanese auto makers were making advances in manufacturing: cutting costs, reducing variation, and improving efficiency. One of the major factors contributingto this transformation was the incorporation of robots in the manufacturing process. Japan imported its first industrial robot in 1967, a Versatran from AMF. In 1971 the Japanese Industrial Robot Association (JIRA) was formed, providing encouragement from the government to incorporate robotics. This move helped to move the Japanese to the forefront in total number of robots used in the world. In 1972 Kawasaki installed a robot assembly line, composed of Unimation robots at their plant in Nissan, Japan. After purchasing the Unimate design from Unimation, Kawasaki improved the robot to create an arc­welding robot in 1974, used to fabricate their motorcycle frames. Also in 1974, Hitachi developed touch and force­sensing capabilities in their Hi­T­Hand robot, which enabled the robot to guide pins into holes at a rate of one second per pin.[1]

Sales started to take off quite quickly in 1973 as more robotic manufacturers demonstrated the precision and reliability of automated machines.[2]

Many have complained the installation of robots within auto manufacturers is compelled by what is often described as the profit motive and job reduction; however, it is more reasonable to consider that robots have helped auto manufacturers improve productivity, increase quality and not only remain in business, whilst employing several million people worldwide, but also continue to increase the number of people employed.

Data means little without qualification

As we have seen, the auto industry was one of the 
first early adopters of industrial
 robots, and has remained the 
leading user. According
 to the International Federation of Robotics the
 average robot density per 10,000 
employees, within
 automotive manufacturers, is approaching 1,000
 (or nearly 1,000 robots for every 
10,000 people), against 
an average of 76 robots per
10,000 employees in other
 manufacturing sectors.

However, these figures may not show the whole picture. Take for example at the BMW owned MINI plant in Oxford United Kingdom, where there are approximately 4,000 people employed, using more than 1,000 robots, or 1 robot for every 4 people. Similarly the Nissan plant in Sunderland, in the north east of England, produces approximately 500,000 vehicles per year; employs 6,000 people and has 780 active robots. Indicating robotics are far more pervasive within factories than population of numbers per employee show.

At the end of 2012 the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) estimated there have been around 2.5 million industrial robots sold since the late 1960’s and that in the region of 1.235 million to 1.5 million of these industrial robots are still in service worldwide. The estimate of robots in service is based on the average service life of an industrial robot of 12 to 15 years.

Globally, the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) indicates approximately 225,000 robot units were sold in 2014, 27% more than in 2013 and by “far the highest level ever recorded for one year.” In 2013 the total ‘recorded’ sales was 178,132 industrial robot units.[3]

On the other hand there are over 120 million people employed directly in manufacturing worldwide (12 million in the United States alone), indicating that robots in service worldwide are still approximately 1% to 1.5% of the global manufacturing ‘workforce.’

On the surface it would seem we are still a long way from ‘factories full of armies of highly intelligent robots.’ But don’t bet against it being long before the second wave of Baxter type robots completely changes this ‘dynamic.’

Cusp of an explosion in robotics?

Robotics is now spreading to a wide range of other sectors such as elder care, crop spraying and warehouse management. Some estimate that by 2025[4] robots will have entered every aspect of human life and will be commonplace; performing functions as diverse as nursing, complex surgery, policing and security, through to construction, retail and hotel service roles.

Some may claim that the current high level of research and investments in robotics, to do the work of humans, is investing money away from where the important problems are, however investments in robotics is leading to productivity growth and productivity growth ‘theoretically’ directly impacts GDP growth.

A National Academy of Sciences 1998 paper indicates (pages 3­5)

Historically, technological change and productivity growth have been associated with expanding rather than contracting total employment and rising earnings.

Technological change will make its maximum contribution to higher living standards, wages, and employment levels if appropriate public and private policies are adopted to support the adjustment to new technologies.

This begs the question – Could the jobs of the near future be in the robotics sector?

Remi El­Ouazzane, Vice President of Texas Instruments believes it is certainly an industry with significant growth potential, as he said:

We have a firm belief that the robotics market is on the cusp of exploding.

Likewise Professor Alan Winfield in his essay contained in the e-book released by Nesta, Our Work Here is Done,[5] believes robotics to be on the verge “of a kind of Cambrian Explosion.”

Using the same expression Gill Pratt, who recently stepped down as Program Manager of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to take up another high profile role in the Robotics private sector, asks in a paper titled: Is a Cambrian Explosion Coming for Robotics? Published in the highly respected journal from the American Economic Association, the Journal of Economic Perspectives.[6] Writes:

Robots are already making large strides in their abilities, <and> as the generalizable knowledge representation problem is addressed <lacking in current robotics>, the growth of robot capabilities will begin in earnest, and it will likely be explosive.

However Gill does caution:

The effects on economic output and human workers are certain to be profound.

[1] Source: Robotics and Automation Handbook 2005, edited by Thomas R. Kurfess

[2] See as an example – History of Industrial Robots, International Federation of Robotics 2012 (http://www.ifr.org/uploads/media/History_of_Industrial_Robots_online_brochure_by_IFR_2012.pdf)

[3] Industrial robots break worldwide sales records (http://www.worldrobotics.org/index.php?id=home&news_id=281)

[4] Nesta, Our Work Here is Done (http://www.nesta.org.uk/publications/our-work-here-done-visions-robot-economy)

[5] Winfield, Alan. Nesta e-book, Our Work Here is Done http://www.nesta.org.uk/publications/our-work-here-done-visions-robot-economy)

[6] Pratt, Gill A. Is a Cambrian Explosion coming for Robotics? (https://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/jep.29.3.51)

Pic: Used under creative commons from Flickr.com Willow Garage

5 Weekend reads: AI, Robot babies and the Future of Selves

Robotenomics lab

Robot Babies

A machine might acquire skills as a human child does by starting with a few basic tasks and gradually constructing a more sophisticated competence—”bootstrapping,” in scientific parlance. In contrast to preprogramming a robot to perform a fixed set of actions, endowing a robot computer with the capacity to acquire skills gradually in response to the environment might produce smarter, more human robots. (Smithsonianmag)

Helping the blind (and robots) see using Artificial Intelligence 

“If you’re a blind person and need to navigate an airport, Aipoly can instruct you on exactly where to walk. Not only that, this has huge implications for robotics. A robot will be able to use the same algorithm to recognize where it is and navigate autonomously.” (Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. Plus see the video on YouTube)

Robotics and AI will change the way we work, but it won’t necessarily take away our work.

“Andrew Moore, the dean of the school of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University who previously worked in AI and robotics at Google, agrees. He says that he has seen no evidence that this technology is stealing jobs—and that, as time goes on, it will likely create an enormous number of jobs.” (Wired quoting Forrester research)

The US Air Force Wants You to Trust Robots–Should You?

A recently posted government contract pre-solicitation titled Trust in Autonomy for Human Machine Teaming gives a glimpse of what that future might look like.

“The Air Force has proposed human-machine teaming as a primary research thrust,” the posting reads. “Yet to achieve this ambitious vision we need research on how to harness the socio-emotional elements of interpersonal team/trust dynamics and inject them into human-robot teams.” The Air Force, which says this research is needed to develop “shared awareness and shared intent between the humans and machine,” estimates the contract will be for $7.5 million. (H/T Scientific American)

AI, Immortality and the Future of Selves

Dr. Martine Rothblatt, CEO of United Therapeutics and author of “Virtually Human: The Promise – and Peril – of Digital Immortality, as she speaks with New York magazine’s Lisa Miller about the ideas behind a career and a life of radical innovation in xenotransplantation, artificial intelligence, transgenderism, pharmaceutical development, space exploration, robotics – and the ways in which technology can help extend human life, and love, perhaps indefinitely. (YouTube – Also below)