Robots are widely used now, and they're only spread even farther into daily life. The sci-fi future may be closer than you think.
Stephen Shanklandprincipal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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I've been covering the technology industry for 24 years and was a science writer for five years before that. I've got deep expertise in microprocessors, digital photography, computer hardware and software, internet standards, web technology, and other dee
For those of you reluctant to welcome our new robot overlords, it might be time to reconsider your stance.
Six times in the last month I've been struck by the increasing utility of robots performing tasks that a human otherwise would. I can't imagine the number will be going down, either.
The most recent example was Amazon's $775 million acquisition of Kiva Systems, a company that automates warehouse operations with robots. "Kiva's technology is another way to improve productivity by bringing the products directly to employees to pick, pack, and stow," said Dave Clark, vice president of global customer fulfillment at Amazon, in a statement. In other words, robots do a lot of the grunt work to make the warehouse run faster.
Amazon knows a lot about operating at large scale, and robots that might not make sense for a small company are a good match for huge warehouses wired directly to a huge e-commerce operation.
And Amazon isn't alone. A German industrial power called Still has the same idea as it expands beyond mere forklifts into the loftier realm of warehouse logistics. At the CeBIT trade show, it showed off a prototype of an autonomous forklift.
There were robots aplenty at CeBIT, the second in my list of robot epiphanies. The eye candy was a Fraunhofer Institute demonstration of a robot that would take a photo of a person then sketch a portrait based on the digital photo. But there's plenty of serious work, too, as evidenced by the 4,000 people a year that come through a robotics training center at the CeBIT fairgrounds.
That training center, the Robotation Academy, was established to convince small businesses that robots are worthy investments for manufacturing, in large measure because of higher consistent quality than what humans offer.