The Robot Takeover: How Automation Will Reshape the Workforce in the Years Ahead
The Robot Takeover: How Automation Will Reshape the Workforce in the Years Ahead – Automating Dangerous and Dirty Work
Automating dangerous and dirty jobs represents one of the most promising applications of intelligent robotics with immense potential to improve human health, safety and dignity. For centuries, certain occupations requiring intensive physical labor, exposure to hazardous conditions, or handling of toxic materials have relied on low-wage human workers simply because no cost-effective alternatives existed. However, advancements in robotic perception, mobility, and manipulation now make it possible to substitute human labor in many of society’s most pernicious roles with tireless automated systems capable of performing the work more efficiently and with virtually zero risk.
Right now, thousands of workers routinely put themselves in harm’s way operating heavy machinery in dangerous settings like mines, oil rigs, and construction sites in order to provide for their families. Sanitation workers endure noxious landfill fumes to keep cities clean. Factory workers constantly risk injury on deafening assembly lines. But specially engineered intelligent robots can now take over these high-risk tasks without requiring any sacrifice of health or wellbeing.
For example, Israeli company MyPlanet has developed semi-autonomous robots able to traverse busy construction zones and perform surveying and inspection tasks too hazardous for workers wearing safety harnesses tethered high above the ground. One builder who collaborated with the robots described them as being “like having a set of eyes watching over us” able to venture into precarious areas humans should avoid, but providing data needed to verify structural integrity and safety. By teaming human expertise with automated technologies, once life-threatening construction work can be done more precisely and without endangering any lives.
Likewise, Zeitworks in Germany has created robotic waste sorters equipped with sensors and AI-powered vision that take over one of recycling’s most undesirable manual roles – separating fetid refuse speedily and efficiently so humans need not endure the stench or health risks. Early applications have achieved 70% higher hourly sorting rates and reduced worker sick days compared to relying solely on slow error-prone human pickers. By relegating the most unpleasant aspects of the work to the automated system, human dignity is restored to the job.