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Robot-Human Teams Becoming Smart, Efficient

Robot-Human Teams Becoming Smart, Efficient

by Karl Sorensen

According to a recent MIT study, company 'happy hours' may soon be a thing of the past.  

After visiting a high-end auto manufacturing plant, Will Knight, MIT online editor, reports “some time in the next couple of years, if everything goes to plan, workers at BMW’s manufacturing plant in Spartanburg SC, will be introduced to a new teammate – a robot.  Once isolated behind safety fences, robots have already become safe and smart enough to work alongside people... taking over tiresome and repetitive tasks.”

Robot technology within the industry is not new. In fact, BMW has been incorporating futuristic methodology into their human production lines for more than a year, writes Knight.  Robots are occupying roles that traditionally require extreme precision and stamina, freeing their flesh-and-blood counterparts to employ creatively based or manual, dexterous duties. 

Are completely automated production lines far off? Richard Morris, VP of assembly at the Spartanburg plant, hopes not. “Ideas come from people, and a robot is never going to replace that,” he tells Knight. Adds Julie Shah, an assistant professor at MIT who researches human-machine collaboration, "Teams made of humans and robots collaborating efficiently can be more productive than teams made of either humans or robots alone.”  In fact, her experiments have shown that cooperative processes reduced idle time by 85%.

So, it appears manufacturing’s evolving landscape may not altogether be devoid of after work gatherings in the years to come. But the bar tab will almost certainly be cheaper. 

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