Women on Robotics

Do women have special, different takes on robotics? We’re not sure, but we did read with interest an article from Packworld on the subject. Much of their discussion was about women in the robotics industry, and their needs for mentorship and sponsorship, and we’re all for that, but it’s not exactly robotics per se.

Friendlier robots?

Courtney Fernandez, an engineer at Universal Robots, made a point about the apparent friendliness of robots and how that can affect safety. “As these robots become friendlier looking,” she said, “we can’t get complacent around this machinery because it’s still machinery. So it looks friendly, it’s getting easier to use, and it’s becoming more accessible for everybody. But it’s still a robot. If you go willy-nilly around any piece of machinery, it has the potential to cause a problem if you don’t treat it with respect. So as things get easier to use, and more friendly looking, it’s still a machine, and we still need to have training and appropriate respect for it.”

We see reports of people dressing up their humanoid robots on the factory floor in hats and ties, for example, giving them names, and otherwise getting fond of them. We generally think of this as a good thing, compared with fear and loathing of potential robot overlords, another common American reaction to robots.

But it could lead to complacency or playfulness, neither of which is a good attitude toward large pieces of machinery with the capacity to harm you with their dangerous movements.

Human jobs

Vinita Palaniveloo, an engineer at Miso Robotics,  pointed out that manufacturing can look at robots as products they buy without considering how they can be tools for human beings to work with and on. Making sure that you have people in house who are trained to program and work with robots is essential for the future. “Who’s going to fix those robots when they break?” asks Palaniveloo, “Who’s going to design the new technology? Who’s going to use these robots to integrate into systems? How are they going to be programmed?”

She also suggests that there are many complementary skills which will be needed in a more highly automated future. Intellectual property questions, new forms of leadership — there are many new skills that we should be training for right now.

Getting philosophical

Laura Armstrong, an engineer at Archytas Automation, spoke out for diversity and its importance. “Diversity as a whole is important for any industry, because we all have different experiences, we all bring different skills to the table,” she said. “So when you bring a team together that is diverse, you’re just going to have way more creativity, knowledge, and experience.”

In robotics, in manufacturing, and in life in general, that’s a good thing.

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