Technology and Automation and Robots, oh my!

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Have you ever thought about how different your life would be without technology? Not just without your phone and computer, but without the invisible technology and systems that people have come to rely upon daily. Coffee machines, automatic steering, meal kit delivery – most people never even think about what’s behind these luxuries, but they all began with technology, automation, and robots.  

Technology is “a capability given by the practical application of knowledge.” In simplified terms, it’s the ability to apply knowledge in order to get something done. Generally, technology improves an outcome by achieving more results or product for less – more miles per gallon, more food per acre, or more products in less time. It may sound complicated, but technology can actually be very simple. One great example of this is the ladder. Before the ladder, when a person harvested fruit from a tree it was done by either picking the fruit within arms reach or by climbing the tree. In the first case, much of the fruit on the tree went to waste and in the second case, a person was risking their wellness to perform a dangerous job. With the advent of the ladder, all of that changed. The risk of falling was reduced, all the fruit on the tree was obtainable, and it could be harvested faster than before. It doesn’t matter whether it’s information technology, medical technology, or transportation technology, they are all just ways of applying knowledge to get better results.

Automation is “having a self-acting or self-regulating mechanism.” Basically automation is a form of technology, one which has been around for roughly 200 years. An example of one of the earlier forms of automation is the development of the cotton spinning machine and the loom. These automatic machines produce all of the cotton textiles that we use in our daily lives, some of the more prevalent examples being shirts, towels, and canvas shoes. These are specialized machines that are meant to perform the same task again and again as long as they are supplied with the proper raw materials and energy input. Other examples of automation in our daily lives are the dishwasher, modern heating and air conditioning, and the automatic transmissions in our cars. Despite all of these examples of automation that surround us daily, fear of automation has continued to grow in recent years. This is why the understanding of robots and their immense benefit to society can help get people excited about robots lending a helping hand.

Robots are “machines that resemble living creatures in being capable of moving independently (as by walking or rolling on wheels) and performing complex actions (such as grasping and moving objects).” Robots fit nicely into the world of automation and technology because a robot is a type of automation technology. The key difference between programmable robots and special automation machines like the loom is the number of tasks either one can perform. A loom can only be used for making textiles but a robot can be programmed to paint, weld, 3D print, and even cut raw goods into finished products. What’s even more amazing is that robots can be taught to do all of these tasks, so the applications are truly endless.

So what does the future of robotics and automation look like? Flexible systems that are easy to reconfigure are already reducing the cost of production, which means that robots are becoming more accessible. So while robots are mostly in factories as looms once were, they’re slowly making their way into the consumer space in creative and exciting ways. People are starting to see the value in machines that can handle their dull, dirty, and dangerous tasks, freeing humans up to spend more time doing what they love.

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