Rise of Robots: New avenues of harmony between man and machine

Amongst all the automation solutions, robots are one of the most distinctive and dynamic examples. Sameer Gandhi explains, their interface with human beings has been continuously evolving enabling them to make inroads to varied manufacturing fields such as automotive, packaging, FMCG, food & beverage, infrastructure and form an important constituent of the whole automation portfolio.
Rise of Robots: New avenues of harmony between man and machine
Amongst all the automation solutions, robots are one of the most distinctive and dynamic examples. Sameer Gandhi explains, their interface with human beings has been continuously evolving enabling them to make inroads to varied manufacturing fields such as automotive, packaging, FMCG, food & beverage, infrastructure and form an important constituent of the whole automation portfolio.
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Sameer Gandhi is the Managing Director of OMRON Automation, India. Gandhi has an experience of over 25 years spanning across multiple disciplines and industries in the manufacturing and automation realms. As MD, he is in charge of expanding the organisation’s footprints in the country by steering the conceptualisation and execution of all key strategies related to sales and business development. Gandhi has been able to contribute significantly towards strengthening the organisation’s share in creating intelligence for varied manufacturing sectors such as automotive, food n beverage, pharmaceuticals, FMCG, packaging to name just a few.
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The existence of the first ever robot dates back to 400 BC when the famous Greek philosopher and mathematician Archytas made an artificial bird and called it ‘The Pigeon’. The Indian roots trace back to the ancient instance of artificial intelligence in the 11th/12th centuries. Indian Lokapannatti tells the story of King Ajatashatru of Magadha, who gathered Buddha's relics and hid them in an underground stupa. These relics were protected by mechanical robots (Bhuta Vahana Yanta) until they were disarmed by King Ashoka. Delving into the history, it is evident that robots have been a part of human existence.
 
An industrialised society was established upon the foundation of a conventional agricultural society in the 14th century. This industrialised society can be looked upon as a series of five phases: first, there was a shift from a handicraft society to an industrialisation society; then, 1870 saw the advent of a mechanisation society; an automation society developed in the 20th century, and from the end of the 20th century until the dawn of the 21st century was an information society.
 
While the industrialised society generated material wealth, it has also left behind many negative factors such as increasing energy and resource depletion, growing industrial waste, rising inequalities, among many others. This has created conflicts and disharmonies between men and machines – the kind of debate that we’re witnessing today. The optimisation society, on the other hand is typified with not only a quest for increase in efficiency and productivity but also pursuit of true joy, creativity and quality of life based on the harmonious relationship between people and machines – where machines are not only handling the tasks but are working closely with people to adapt to their needs.
So in the optimisation society, knowledge or information is not exchanged as numerical data only in the form of ONs and OFFs or 1s and 0s (as it is happening in the information society). Instead there is an exchange and expression of human knowledge and sensitivity, automating parts of human intellect and sensations – creating the basis of harmony between man and machine.
 
Automation solution
Amongst all the automation solutions, robots are one of the most distinctive and dynamic examples personifying this automation based on exchange of communication with human beings. Their interface with human beings has been continuously evolving enabling them to make inroads to varied manufacturing fields such as automotive, packaging, FMCG, food & beverage, infrastructure and form an important constituent of the whole automation portfolio helping India meet the manufacturing needs of tomorrow.
 
Their widening expanse is a noteworthy indicator of their harmony (and not competition) with the human beings. Looking at the relationship closely, one should strive to realise that robots automate ‘activities’ and not ‘jobs’. Hence, even if some activities, in the realm of a big job, are taken care by a robot, they and the human beings need to work in harmony to deliver the best results. Also, robots deployed for repetitive manual labour activities free up the employees to be more creative and focus their capabilities on higher-level tasks demanding more complex and creative human skills such as pursuing the designing of new and more efficient products and solutions.
 
The potential for mass unemployment has always been in the air with every transformation. But human society with its unparalleled ingenuity has always continued to accept and take advantage of the existence of machines for producing remarkable goods and services, and create a competitive edge. Many countries in the world are doing exactly that by encouraging the extensive use of robots.
 
Current industry conversation is focused on how some of these countries are at more ease with robots than the rest of the world. According to United Nations Conference on Trade and Development Report 2017, China, which has the second largest army of industrial robots, has seen its real wages increase by about 1.5 times in the past 10 years. It also mentions that some of the countries where robot density is large as well as countries where the accumulation of robots has been rapid have experienced an increase, or only a very small decline, in the share of manufacturing with respect to total employment.
 
The world is moving towards making solutions which are world-class and automation will act as a boon to stay ahead of the innovation curve and sustain the economic development. This holds a lot of gravity for the Indian manufacturing industry, as robots will allow the industry to leapfrog in terms of productivity and quality to ‘make world-class goods in India’.
 
Panacea to the roadblocks
However, as we move on this path of increasing automation and faster deployment of robots, we’ll have to significantly rewrite our playbook. There will be challenges and we must prepare for the same. If the threat of mass unemployment has to be mitigated, we have to expedite our efforts to counter the challenges of skills displacement. This needs to be answered well by preparing a skill-up for the current generation and the forthcoming generation of workers at a massive scale. Otherwise, this opportunity (to engage in more creative pursuits and to make world class in India) could instead become a major challenge to our society.
 
A deeper look at the current National Policy for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship 2015 reveals that the government, apart from the overarching high-level initiatives, has been considering some very novel steps too to realise their vision of creating not only skilled job seekers but also to convert them into job creators in the long run with speed, standard (quality) and sustainability.
 
Some of these include using hard and soft infrastructure which is underutilised. For instance, the policy says, that there are over 10 lakh institutional buildings (schools, colleges, polytechnics, youth hostels, post offices and kiosks, etc.) that are used for less than 40 hours a week. Since one of the key challenges of skilling is the proximity between the supply and the skill catchment, it is essential to take skilling to the remotest parts of the country and scale up quickly which can be made possible by using this existing infrastructure.
 
Another very distinctive initiative is the utility of the immensely wide railway network (approximately 65,000 km with over 8,000 stations). A large proportion of it has adequate infrastructure facilities, electricity supply and an extensive optical fibre cable (OFC) network. The possibility of leveraging this to deliver short-term skilling courses and promoting awareness is on the cards. Separate skill courses, aligned to the appropriate NSQF levels, are also thought across to be held in existing schools/centres during evening hours to provide alternate career pathway to the students.
 
All these indicate the long term vision of the government in linking skills development to improved employability, productivity and even entrepreneurship to pave way forward for inclusive growth in the country. However, there is no denying of the fact that skill development is not only the responsibility of one of the stakeholders.  It is the shared responsibility of all – government, corporate sector, community based organisations, academia, influencers and experienced individuals working in the respective fields, etc.
 
Strategy world around
As a country, we have a formidable challenge ahead. Numbers, as mentioned in the Policy say that only 4.69 per cent of the total workforce in India has undergone formal skill training as compared to 68 per cent in UK, 75 per cent in Germany, 52 per cent in USA, 80 per cent in Japan and 96 per cent in South Korea. 
 
Countries like Germany and UK are inspired with the notion of creating skilled manpower to solve problems because they believe that for turning the screws, robots will be there! They aim to create skilled, thoughtful, self-reliant employees who can improvise when things go wrong with machines or when there is an opportunity to make them better.
 
There is a notable practice of conducting ‘dual training’ under the umbrella of apprenticeships in many countries in Europe. It comprises of apprentices splitting their days between classroom instruction at a vocational school and on-the-job time at a company. So the theory they learn in class is strengthened and honed with the practice at work. The trainees are paid for their time and the practice continues for three to four years depending on the sector and most of the times lead to absorption of the trainee by the company. What makes the whole thing work are the standardised curricula in a particular sector across the country. For example, every young machinist training anywhere in Germany learns the same skills in the same order on the same timetable as every other machinist. Another interesting practice (in Germany) is the children choosing a vocational track along with their academics from the age of 10. It is like beginning of lifelong learning to prepare a person for jobs.
 
Of course, there are huge differences between India and other countries and we cannot copy the same modules here but at least we can borrow relevant ideas and put in earnest efforts to make sure the experiments and the novel initiatives succeed. The companies need talent and for this they should have the sponsoring thought first amongst all stakeholders, which “they want to train their workforce!” Vocational schools and institutes cannot do the job alone.
 
If there is one thing that we can learn from history, it is that technology is like a genie out of the bottle and can’t be reversed. Once created, it gathers a momentum of its own. If we’re prepared, we can use this momentum to our advantage and uplift the masses from poverty. But if we’re not nimble enough, we could just get steam rolled by it and lose out on a great opportunity.
 
Faro releases SCENE 2019 for advanced 3D reality capture
 
Faro, one of the leading players in 3D measurement and imaging solutions, has released SCENE 2019, an advanced, integrated software platform that optimises the Faro Focus Laser Scanner product family. SCENE 2019 is specifically designed to evolve the 3D reality capture, analysis and documentation experience across the public safety forensics segment for crash, crime, fire and security planning and Traceable Construction for architecture, engineering and construction markets.
 
A breakthrough Faro innovation in SCENE 2019 allows the laser scanner CPU (central processing unit) to be leveraged at nearly 100 per cent of capacity and reduces scan processing time by up to 50 per cent. Additionally, this efficiency scales up accordingly as additional CPU cores are added.
 
Another Faro innovation, Moving Objects Filter, enables automated ghosting or easy removal of undesirable objects moving through a scene eg people or vehicles. This significantly reduces data cleanup time and effort for unwanted items.
 
Advanced new functionality now enables a section of a point cloud to be exported from SCENE into Faro Zone 3D software, or other 3rd party software packages, where they can be displayed in color and manipulated as a 3D model. It is now much easier to merge scans for Faro Zone 3D from different locations. For example, in a crash reconstruction, a user can first scan the roadway where a crash occurred, scan the vehicles at the impound lot and then integrate the meshed point clouds in Faro Zone 3D.
 
"We can create some of the fastest 3D reality capture equipment in the world, but it has limited value if the data captured is cumbersome and slow to process. Faro continues to uniquely innovate in this area in SCENE 2019 with the introduction of artificial intelligence to filter out moving objects, expansion of the software's flexibility and quantifiable, advanced workflow improvements,” stated Andreas Gerster, Vice President Construction BIM.
 
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