The robot takeover isn’t going as smoothly as planned. It turns out that sometimes robots need guidance just like humans. Not everything can be automated, yet anyway. Liz Young explains in The Wall Street Journal:
Caroline Rutenberg got an alert one day that one of her charges needed help at the Amazon.com warehouse where she works in Windsor, Conn.
Rutenberg walked across the warehouse floor and found the crew member covered in white paint and refusing to move after an accidental spill.
Rutenberg took a cloth and gently wiped off the worker’s eyes, getting a glassy, expressionless stare in return. But it’s not like she expected a “thank you”—her underling is a robot, a squat machine on wheels that looks like a Roomba vacuum with a conveyor belt on top.
Androids of various shapes, sizes and functions are now employed doing everything from autonomously ferrying goods around warehouses to delivering food on college campuses.About 21% of warehouses used some form of robotics in 2023, up from 15% in 2018, according to research firm Interact Analysis.
But far from replacing humans entirely, companies are finding cyborgs need a little hand-holding to learn how to function in the real world.
Rutenberg, a robot technician and trainer at Amazon, is among a new class of workers responsible for corralling and managing the robots, fixing minor maintenance issues and keeping tabs on their locations. The professionals say the machines they work with tend to perform their tasks with precision but often also a little naiveté.
Some devices get a reputation, Rutenberg said. One autonomous robot she works with—a device called a drive that she named Blinky for the lights it flashes when it needs help—has become known for its misbehavior.
When a robotic arm tries to set an item down on Blinky’s conveyor belt, Blinky will move its belt too quickly and bungle the transfer, she said. People recognize Blinky on sight because it zooms around faster than the other bots.
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