Competing With Blue Collar Robots

Lots of new jobs are coming; maids, home health care workers, food service workers, retail salespeople and custodians are all needed. But will those jobs be filled by people - or blue collar robots?

By 2017, about 225,000 more maids, home health care workers, food service workers, retail salespeople and custodians are likely to be needed, making them among the fastest-growing jobs. But with wages around $10 per hour, it's hard to find good candidates.

It might get even harder. These aforementioned jobs will account for nearly 1 million of the 2.4 million new, low-skill jobs expected to be added in the U.S. by 2017, according to a USA TODAY analysis of jobs data from Economic Modeling Specialists Intl. (EMSI) and CareerBuilder.

But advances in technology mean such workers might be replaced by robots like HERB, the "Home-Exploring Robot Butler" under development at Carnegie-Mellon. HERB is learning to retrieve and deliver objects, prepare simple meals and empty a grocery bag.


(HERB Home Exploring Robot Butler)

"This is a demo to give you an idea of all the algorithms that are built in. We're interested in building the fundamental algorithms of perception and motion planning... We're motivated by tasks that can be performed in the home, to help people, particularly the elderly and the disabled...

HERB reminds me of the blue collar robot from Harry Harrison's 1956 short story The Velvet Glove. This highly adaptable robot had an additional feature that might concern humans looking for work today - it could autonomously seek work.

Jon Venex fitted the key into the hotel room door. He had asked for a large room, the largest in the hotel and had paid the desk clerk extra for it... The room was bigger than he expected - fully three feet wide by five feet long...

There was the usual adjustable hook on the back wall. He slipped it through the recessed ring in the back of his neck and kicked himself up until his feet hung free of the floor. His legs relaxed with a rattle as he cut off all power below his waist.

The overworked leg motor would have to cool down before he could work on it, plenty of time to skim through the newspaper. With the chronic worry of the unemployed, he snapped it open to the want ads and ran his eye down the Help Wanted - Robot column...

Via MyCentralJersey and 2045.

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