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Making Robots That Can See
Will RFID or vision technologies be used to identify objects on an assembly line?
Sep 17, 2012—Last month, I read an interesting article published by The New York Times regarding a new generation of robots that employ vision technologies to perform manufacturing tasks more quickly and more accurately than humans possibly could (see Skilled Work, Without the Worker). The writer, John Markoff, describes a Philips Electronics factory on the coast of China in which hundreds of workers use their hands and specialized tools to assemble electric shavers, and another factory in the Netherlands in which 128 robot arms perform the same work with yoga-like flexibility. "Video cameras guide them through feats well beyond the capability of the most dexterous human," the article explains.
Markoff goes on to say that "rapid improvement in vision and touch technologies is putting a wide array of manual jobs within the abilities of robots," and he discusses the implications for employment in manufacturing during the coming years. I have long believed that robots would increasingly be able to do many of the jobs humans do today, but I thought it would be radio frequency identification technology that would transform these machines.
Does that mean RFID will not be used? I've been pondering that question for the past few weeks, and here's what I've concluded. Robots will, through the power of computer processing, increasingly attain the capabilities of humans. So if a person can execute a task effectively using their eyes, robots will likely utilize vision technologies. If humans cannot use their eyes, then robots won't be able to use vision.
Let me provide a couple of examples to explain.
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