Researchers at Berkley University in California have developed technology that could change the future of automation. Visual foresight enables robots to predetermine the outcome of future actions. The critical part of this advancement is that the robots do not require human intervention. They can learn to perform tasks without any help or prior knowledge.
The new technology is sure to spark more debate about the use of robots and the risk to human jobs. One thing is for certain, the use of industrial robotics is steadily increasing, with sales of robots growing by around 13% each year.
The ground-breaking technology
Visual foresight allows robots to predict what their cameras will see after they perform a sequence of movements. With the new technology, a robot pushes objects on a table, then uses the learned prediction model to choose motions that will move another object to the desired location avoiding any obstructions.
“In the same way that we can imagine how our actions will move the objects in our environment, this method can enable a robot to visualize how different behaviour will affect the world around it,” said Sergey Levine, assistant professor in Berkeley’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences, whose lab developed the technology. “This can enable intelligent planning of highly flexible skills in complex real-world situations.”
The future of automation in engineering
Despite the robotic imaginations still being relatively simple for now, this is an indication of what could be possible in the future. Once developed further, the technology could potentially play a part in fully automated manufacturing, or the creation of self-driving cars.
New technology leads to new opportunities for engineers. An increase in robots means more demand for maintenance, repair and programming specialists. We explore the effect on human jobs as robotics increase in other parts of our automation series.
What our engineers say
We talk to engineers every day and we wanted to know how they feel about visual foresight and how it may affect them in the future. The majority of those asked explained that as engineers they are familiar with change, and are confident that it’s a positive advancement.
“It’s going to mean more work for engineers with a guaranteed income,” said Paul, a multi-skilled Maintenance Engineer. “I think it’s really exciting.”
Phil, a Program Manager in the manufacturing sector said: “Jobs and engineering will always change, go forward. The accuracy and efficiency will improve using automated processes and data. That is a good thing!”
“As long as they are programmed correctly it’s a good move,” said Jim, a Project Engineer. “Automation often stops when there is unexpected debris and this will always require a skilled operator to intervene.”
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