the maker movement and robotics: rethinking what it means to collaborate

in rethinking robotics by Jim Lawton

Last month, I posted a blog noting that while many news stories continue to position the discussion around robots as us vs. them, the next generation is likely to not only not fear robots but will in fact, embrace them.

Then, at this month’s RoboBusiness conference, I dug a little a deeper into this affinity of youth for technology and what it means for the robotics market.  Bottom line? We’ve got some catching up to do if we want to meet this generation where they will be when they become our customers.

The Makers Movement


Think about it. The generation that precedes these kids have blazed a new path for getting things done. On their terms. Outside of traditional institutions and without a lot of red tape. The Maker Movement is inspiring—and equipping—a whole new breed of manufacturers. GoFundMe and KickStarter are making raising investment capital a grassroots activity. The Square makes anyone with a mobile device a merchant. Want to be clothing retailer? Forget the mall space and all the costs involved with that model. Buy a used truck and outfit it as a boutique.

Mark Hatch of TechShop, which makes equipment, space and expert advice available to anyone looking to build a product for just $125/month calls this generation the Creative Class. With the foundation laid, those that follow are likely to take the opportunities to explore what’s possible further and faster.

How will robots fit in their world? These kids will work and play expecting robots to be an integral part of the fabric of their lives. They will assume the robots they see are safe. They will want more.

Today, collaborative robotics is constrained by the thinking about automation in general – where environments are modified to meet the needs of the solutions in which they are needed rather than the other way around.

Game-changing breakthroughs will come when we move beyond getting robots out of cages and focus on designing solutions around the first half of the definition of collaborative robotics: robots that engage in direct interaction with humans.

To achieve this, robotics solutions will take on certain human characteristics that tear down the barriers between man and machine—making it possible for real collaboration. Humans engage, learn, adapt, are resilient and sense. Robots will, too.

And when they do, they will be more accessible, engaging, touchable and more able to fuel creativity and innovation. They will collaborate. That’s what our next customers will be looking for – and what they deserve.


About the Author

Jim Lawton

Jim had a choice upon graduating from Tufts University – chase a dream as a concert pianist or become part of the inaugural Leaders for Manufacturing Program at MIT. He chose the latter– dedicating his career to developing and delivering innovative solutions that improve the business of manufacturing. Internally at HP, and then at breakthrough start-ups in e-commerce, inventory optimization and supply chain risk management, Jim’s never once looked back. His charter today: capture the power of data and analytics to push the standard for world-class manufacturing higher—once again.

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