Tag Archives: automation

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Mechanical Kiwis, or how the Kiwi’s food delivery bots are only semi-autonomous


Looks like autonomous robots have a way to go. So while Kiwi’s food delivery bots are rolling out to 12 more colleges (TechCrunch), they aren’t exactly autonomous robots. Instead…

The robots are what Kiwi calls “semi-autonomous.” This means that although they can navigate most sidewalks and avoid pedestrians, each has a human monitoring it and setting waypoints for it to follow, on average every five seconds. Iatsenia told me that they’d tried going full autonomous and that it worked… most of the time. But most of the time isn’t good enough for a commercial service, so they’ve got humans in the loop. They’re working on improving autonomy, but for now this is how it is.

The future is weird. Also, good luck with those in places with hostile weather, architecture, or people.

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Humanless stores: a bad idea that refuses to die


It’s funny how certain tech ideas are bad and yet keep coming back, like zombies. Micropayments is one. Another is stores or establishments run without people: automats, in a sense. It’s a terrible idea in my opinion, and yet people keep trying them. Case in point, here’s some in China that came and went: China’s unmanned store boom ends as quickly as it began – Nikkei Asian Review. 

I am sure these will pop up from time to time. Robots are becoming more prevalent, and the urge to keep putting more and more of them in establishments will continue. But like the old automats, I think they will only get so far before they fail.

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If you are thinking of using chatbots in your work, read this


Chatbots are relatively straightforward to deploy these days. AI providers like IBM and others provide all the technology you need. But do you really need them? And if you already have a bunch of them deployed, are you doing it right? If these questions have you wondering, I recommend you read this: Does Your Company Really Need a Chatbot?

You still may want to proceed with chatbots: they make a lot of business sense for certain types of work. But you will have a better idea when not to use them, too.

Thoughts on automation, from the WSJ (and me, someone who specialized in automation)

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Christopher Mims has a good piece here that touches on many of the recent arguments concerning automation, here: Automation Can Actually Create More Jobs (WSJ). Well worth reading.

For my own perspective, early in my career my job was automating many of the systems operations tasks in my part of IBM. In one year I automated essentially the work of 10 people. No one lost their job as result, because while it was good to have these activities automated, the activities were not valuable enough to justify hiring people to do the work. Essentially the automation improved the quality of our work. Automation using IT to improve the quality of work is a good use of automation, be that automation be a lowly shell script or very expensive robot with A.I. Quality aside, how the automation affects staff depends on the culture and the makeup of an organization.

There is talk of places like McDonald’s replacing workers with kiosks as a result of a drive by some for a higher minimum wage. First off, McDonald’s are rolling out those kiosks in Canada, too, which makes me think they are going to deploy them regardless of what the minimum wage is. Second, I have used the kiosks a number of times, and they are of a limited benefit to a McDonald’s customer. The kiosks are good if there is a long line for a person to take your order: they kiosks are bad if there is a small line or no line. They are bad because it will take you many more minutes to place your order, due to the kiosk’s user interface. (Try one and you will see.) The kiosks some time will fail to print out your receipt: if you don’t remember your order number, then you have to go in line, tell them what you ordered, and then get your number. Overall the kiosks are not bad: they are especially good if you like to special order. But if the lines aren’t long and your order is standard, skip them and go in line.

Besides that, McDonald’s will still have plenty of staff and likely will for the future. Kiosks can’t cook, can’t pack your order, and can’t clean the restaurant. If you think robots can do that and do it cheaply, you need to learn more about robotics. I can see why McDonald’s and other fast food places need automation: they are constantly trying to retain people while trying to keep costs down. But the notion they are automating to spite people looking for a higher wage is ridiculous. McDonald’s is not going to become a glorified vending machine and they should not try to be. People go to restaurants and coffee shops to socialize and to come in contact with other people, and automation will provide less of that, not more.

As well, smart fast food places will learn that human contact makes for better business (see Starbucks). There are many ways to be successful as a fast food business, and a positive experience in dealing with staff is one of those ways.

Automation changes work. However, how it changes work is complex. It is tempting to assume that it will eliminate all work, but that is too simplistic. In addition, we need to think about work, income, and why we do what we do. Automation can help us do that, and that is one clear benefit of automation.

(Image: link to image.freepik.com)

Forget self driving cars – the first big thing will be self driving trucks

While there is lots of discussion about self driving cars, it’s much more likely that self driving trucks will become standard and accepted first. Here are two stories that support that. First this: How Canada’s oilsands are paving the way for driverless trucks — and the threat of big layoffs. Second, over at Vox, is:  This is the first licensed self-driving truck. There will be many more. Key quote from Vox:

Last night at the Hoover Dam, the Freightliner company unveiled its Inspiration Truck: the first semi-autonomous truck to get a license to operate on public roads.

The Inspiration is now licensed to drive autonomously on highways in Nevada. It works a bit like a plane’s autopilot system: a driver will get the rig on the highway, and can take control at any time once it’s there. But the truck will be able to drive itself at high speeds, using cameras to make sure it stays within its lane and doesn’t get too close to the vehicle in front of it.

Self driving trucks are already up and operational. Additionally, the business case and the hurdles to overcome with self driving trucks will be easier to achieve than that of self driving cars in urban areas. Sooner than you think, you will commonly see self driving trucks on highways, especially during the hours when most highways are 80-90% trucks.

Transportation is changing. Self driving trucks are going to be leading that change. Self driving cars will be a distant second.

 

Robot Fast Food workers, automats, and food trucks: food of the future

Are low-wage workers going to replaced by robots? There are cases to be made for that happening, both here: The Shift From Low-Wage Worker to Robot Worker from FiveThirtyEight and from the recent book, The Second Machine age (pictured above). Indeed, some have argued that fast food restaurants are a form of manufacturing, and this makes the notion of replacing works with machines more plausible to me.

It is important not just to look at the future, but also the past, in particular, the history of the automat.

The automat was once the future too, and there are still vestiges of them around, but mainly they have died off. There were a number of reasons for this (see Automat – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia), but inflexibility was one of them. Right now fast food establishments thrive on inflexibility and low cost.That is also the way to compete with them.  I can see how people can compete with that and win, and the way to do that is portable food (e.g., food trucks, food stalls). Barring bureaucratic costs, portable food is cheaper to deliver than traditional bricks and mortar establishments (even fast food ones). And portable food vendors can be much more flexible than fast food places can ever be.

The other way to compete with them is by being human and offering better service. No robot in the next century will be able to do that.

For more on the book, check out: Amazon.com: The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies (9780393239355): Erik Brynjolfsson, Andrew McAfee: Books

 

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Robot Fast Food workers, automats, and food trucks: food of the future (some notes)

Are low-wage workers going to replaced by robots? There are cases being made for that happening, both here: The Shift From Low-Wage Worker to Robot Worker from FiveThirtyEight and from the recent book, The Second Machine age (pictured above). As well, some bloggers like Matt Yglesias have argued that fast food restaurants are a form of manufacturing, and this makes the notion of replacing fast food workers with machines more plausible to me.

However, in considering this, it is important to look not just to the future, but also to look to the past. In particular, the past that contained the automat.

The automat was once the future too. There are still vestiges of them around, but mainly they have died off. They collapsed for a number of reasons (see Automat – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia), but the chief reason was inflexibility.

Today’s fast food establishments thrive on inflexibility and low cost. One way people can compete with that and win is with portable food (e.g., food trucks, food stalls). Barring bureaucratic costs, portable food is cheaper to deliver than when it is delivered by traditional bricks and mortar establishments (even fast food ones) and portable food vendors can be much more flexible than fast food places can ever be.  There might still be robots delivering portable food, just like there are vending machines that provide food. But they won’t have flexibility of humans, and they won’t be as cheap.  Additionally, humans can offer human interaction: no robot in the near future will be able to imitate that.

I believe eating is a social act and a human act, and buying and selling food should be a social and human activity.  We humans need to think about it in ways to provide it that doesn’t dehumanize ourselves.

For more on the book, check out: Amazon.com: The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies (9780393239355): Erik Brynjolfsson, Andrew McAfee: Books. It’s really great.