The “Robot Taxation” debate carries on

Robotics

As breakthroughs in the fields of automation and robotics become more common, so do debates into the realities of a changing workflow. The topic of taxation of robots — specifically the taxation of firms that utilize robots for automaton purposes — is one such example of these ongoing discussions, though one without a clear solution.

Last month, Bill Gates spoke to Quartz on the subject of robot taxation, stating “right now, if a human worker does $50,000 worth of work in a factory, that income is taxed. If a robot comes in to do the same thing, you’d think we’d tax the robot at a similar level. You cross the threshold of job-replacement of certain activities all sort of at once. So, you know, warehouse work, driving, room cleanup, there’s quite a few things that are meaningful job categories that, certainly in the next 20 years, being thoughtful about that extra supply is a net benefit. It’s important to have the policies to go with that.” This opinion, however, met its share of criticism; similarly a proposed measure in Europe to tax corporations that utilize robots was quickly shot down.

Robot taxation raises several hard to answer questions and difficulties. One such obstacle is the clarification of what constitutes a robot. Is a robot defined as a piece of software that automates a complex process? Is it a physical piece of automated technology? The nebulous nature of this definition creates an obstacle in the adoption of such a tax. Where is the line drawn?

A common argument made for taxation of robots is job loss — if a robot is doing the job a person could then that will result in a lost job. Though this is certainly true with any automated process, economists and other experts view the net-growth possibilities as a worthwhile investment. Economist James Bessen wrote in his response to Bill Gates’s interview “although automation will lead to further job losses in manufacturing, warehouse operations, and truck driving, the overall impact of automation across most industries will be to increase employment,” going on to compare the impact on productivity to the introduction of the bar-code scanner or ATM.

Further complicating the discussion of robot taxation is that many view it as a superficial solution to a complex problem. Robots and automated processes are not going away, after all. To this end many sides of the discussion would prefer a long-term solution to the changing workforce, such as the adoption of a universal income in order to adequately prepare for a future with growing number of automated processes.

The debate of robot taxation currently has no clear answer and will undoubtedly carry on in the near-future. One thing is clear: automated processes are not going anywhere, be they robotic manufacturing assembly or self-driving automobiles. What solutions and measures are adopted with them, however, remain to be seen.

Sources:

Quartz

Forbes

The Guardian

Fortune

 

Nora Ayanian sees a future of autonomous robot coordination

Nora Ayanian

Photo Source Tumo

“Teams of humans are exceptionally good at coordination. Teams of robots, however, are clumsy at coordination, requiring extensive communication and computation.” – Nora Ayanian

There’s no denying it, robots are incomparably skilled when carrying out a specific given task, even if that task requires some light improvisation. The same can’t be said, however, when robots are forced to worked together; the overlap in work either results in extra work on the programming side or redundant/ineffective task management on the robot side. But what if robots could coordinate themselves autonomously depending on what the other robots are currently doing? It may sound like something out of Westworld, but this is exactly the question that Nora Ayanian is working to answer.

Nora Ayanian, assistant professor and Director of the ACT (Automatic Coordination of Teams) Lab at USC, endeavors to make robots and robotics a very real part of everyday life. “I want to make robots easy to use and have them everywhere,” said Ayanian, “they should be accessible, user-friendly and interactive so you can have them in your house and in your car. Right now, robots are really difficult for novices to use.”

Despite her passion for the robotic, her goal to achieve robotic automation would require researching a much less predictable source: people. By developing an online multiplayer game with funding from the National Science Foundation CAREER award, Ayanian was able to study the ways that humans can coordinate together when presented with very little information or communication tools. This research would prove invaluable in defining an automated coordination system for robots and allow to them to “think” of solutions for problems based on the activities of the greater robotic team.

Though automated coordination could certainly be applied to groups of identical robots with identical programming, Nora Ayanian believes that diversity, both in terms of team and of the robots themselves, is the key to solving complex tasks.

“The way we solve multi-robot problems right now is to uniformly apply one control policy to all of the identical robots in the team. For example, imagine we’re trying to monitor air quality with a team of physically identical aerial robots. If we considered all the factors that could affect the problem, the robots, and their capabilities, we might have too many factors to consider and our problem would be intractable,” wrote Ayanian in a blog post for Justmeans.com. “Imagine that same team of aerial robots assisted by robots on the ground. The robots on the ground could provide additional information such as temperature, position, topography, and satellite communications via hardware the aerial robots might not be able to carry. They could also perform computation, telling the aerial robots where to go and mapping the air quality, allowing the aerial robots to use more of their on-board energy for sensing.”

The contributions Nora Ayanian has made to the field of robotics don’t just end with the vast potential of her research, they are also every present in the new generation of roboticists she inspires and works alongside in her role as Director of USC’s ACT lab. We are incredibly excited to see what Ayanian’s work means for the future of robotics and dub her our “Featured Innovator of the Month.”

Note: Nora Ayanian does not work for Willamette Valley Company nor is she affiliated with our company.

Sources:

https://www.technologyreview.com/lists/innovators-under-35/2016/

http://www.justmeans.com/blog/diversity-in-the-it-industry-is-key-to-solving-global-problems

USC News: New USC Viterbi professor sees robots in future

USC News: Two USC Viterbi researchers named among top ‘Innovators Under 35’

Are You Robotic Industries Association Certified?

RIAMember

“Our experience and capabilities in robotic programming will be further recognized through this certification. It demonstrates our continuing commitment with providing customers arc welding and cutting solutions for a completely automated system.” – Justin Percio, Business Manager, Welding Automation Systems, Lincoln Electric

Robotics are a fundamental part of WVCO and of our shared passion. Our PRE-TEC division builds custom and pre-engineered robotics, from multi-axis robot arms and end-of-arm tooling, to conveyance systems, and safety hardware —backed by all the support, training, programming, and maintenance you need. Beyond our own manufacturing, however, we are also a member of the Robotic Industries Association (RIA), a relationship that has enabled us to better serve customers by giving us access to the latest technologies, methodologies, and resources.

RIA

RIA is the only North American trade group dedicated solely to robotics and robot safety. It was first founded in 1974 in an effort to “drive innovation, growth, and safety in manufacturing and service industries through education, promotion, and advancement of robotics, related automation technologies, and companies delivering integrated solutions.” They’ve succeeded in their endeavor, providing companies with a venue to seek help, answers, information, and certification.

RIA Certified Robot Integrator

RIA certification is an invaluable way for robot integrators and inventors to highlight their experience, capabilities, and aptitude to users, suppliers, investors, clients, and partners alike. It demonstrates that they’ve met the critical criteria determined by the RIA, which in turn means they’re an expert in best practices.

The certification is relatively new, first established in 2012. Prior to it, end users struggled to determine robotic integrators’ expertise and business requirements.  The certification plays a crucial role in establishing an industry standard for end users to evaluate vendors and ensure the best possible partnerships.

“The RIA certification program doesn’t only benefit end users, however. It’s the perfect opportunity for certified robot integrators to differentiate themselves,” says Armando Barry, certification consultant to RIA. “Achieving RIA certification will reflect a significant commitment by robot integrators, that elevates their technical expertise in applying robots in a consistent manner,” Barry concluded.

PRE-TEC Robotics

How to Become Certified

In order to become certified, integrators go through a rigorous process which includes an on-site audit, safety training and hands-on testing of key personnel among other important criteria.

There are three basic parts to the on-site exam and audit:

1. Hands-On section
2. Expert Response Section: (Participant industry tenure & biography)
3. On-site audit of business infrastructure per completed “Self Score Card”. Supporting evidence will be gathered before any certification date is scheduled.

The entire certification process demonstrates the requisite level of technical knowledge required to execute robotic system projects and tasks in a safe, efficient, and economical manner. It also signifies not only the company, but the technician has the ability of working with various codes and standards.

To learn more about this certification, we hope you will visit the RIA Certified Robot Integrator Program page. For more information on RIA, membership and the certification program, please contact RIA Headquarters at 734/994-6088 or visit Robotics Online at www.robotics.org.

Sources:

RIA

Intelligrated

Self-Healing Concrete May Not Just Be For Sci-Fi

Henk-Jonkers

Professor Henk Jonkers at work. Photo Source: Newscientist.nl

“The problem with cracks in concrete is leakage. If you have cracks, water comes through — in your basements, in a parking garage. Secondly, if this water gets to the steel reinforcements — in concrete we have all these steel rebars — if they corrode, the structure collapses.” – Professor Henk Jonkers, Delft University of Technology, Netherlands.

Concrete repair products is a subject we know a lot about!  We’ve seen first hand the problems that slow-building cracks can create. But what if damaged concrete could heal itself? That’s exactly what Professor Henk Jonkers is working towards with his work into bioconcrete — concrete that heals itself using bacteria.

Jonkers was inspired by the human body in his work, which works by adding a limestone-producing bacteria agent to the concrete mix. As air is let in through cracks and damage to the concrete, the bacteria is activated and begins producing limestone and patching out the cracks.”You need bacteria that can survive the harsh environment of concrete. It’s a rock-like, stone-like material, very dry,” says Professor Jonkers.

This process could play a pivotal role during construction, when small imperceptible cracks form as concrete is laid. By self-patching immediately, this bioconcrete could prevent long term damage. You can see some of the self-healing concrete at work below.

To date, bioconcrete has only been able to heal cracks up to a very slim 0.8 mm wide in about three weeks, but it can also be sprayed in cracks of regular concrete to use its mending powers. It will certainly be interesting to hear what the future holds for bioconcrete, and if its European Inventor Award finalist nomination is any indication, we’ll be hearing much more soon!

It’s this ingenuity and forward-thinking approach to finding new unexplored solutions to potentially long-term and expensive problems why we have named Professor Henk Jonkers our “Featured Innovator of the Month.” We look forward to hearing more of his work in bioconcrete in the future!

Note: Henk Jonkers does not work for Willamette Valley Company nor is he affiliated with our company.

Sources:

CNN 

TUDelft

XPrize

Pi Day Gives Us an Excuse to Celebrate Mathematics This Month!

Pi Day

Celebrate “Pi Day” March 14th! 

As a company full scientists, engineers and other technological innovators, we value and celebrate mathematics! So you can probably guess that Pi Day, March 14th, is a big deal to us!

Yes, Pi- the mathematical constant.  You know, that “π” symbol thing used in mathematics to represent a constant — the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter — which is approximately 3.14159.

Since it’s humble beginnings at the San Francisco Exploratorium in 1988, Pi Day has exploded into a cultural phenomenon celebrated by students, mathematicians, engineers and everyone in between around the world! The day is often commentated with pie eating contests, essays, T-Shirts, poetry, internet memes, math challenges and more!

To understand the fascination of Pi, you must first understand it’s infinite nature. Scientists and mathematicians have calculated Pi to more than a trillion digits, but its exact nature remains a mystery that will never be solved. As an irrational and transcendental number, it will continue infinitely without repetition or pattern.

You may have memorized pi in your High School math class, only to never use it again- but it’s impact on science, technology, engineering and math is astronomical. Steven Strogatz summarizes it’s importance beautifully in this 2015 New York Times article. “The beauty of pi, in part, is that it puts infinity within reach,” he writes. “The digits of pi never end and never show a pattern. They go on forever, seemingly at random—except that they can’t possibly be random, because they embody the order inherent in a perfect circle. This tension between order and randomness is one of the most tantalizing aspects of pi”.

Pi is so much more than a number. Our modern world depends on it. “It lies at the heart of any technology that involves rotation or waves, and that is much of mechanical and electrical engineering,” writes Chris Budd. “In medical imaging using CAT or MRI scanners, the scanning devices move on a ring which has to be manufactured to a tolerance of one part in 1,000,000, requiring an even more precise value of pi”.

We could go on about our excitement over Pi Day, but we’ll leave you with this list of interesting reads on the subject. So, from all of us at WVCO, Happy Pi Day!

photo credit: LEGO happy pi day! via photopin (license)

Why We Need More Women in STEM Careers

Women In STEM

Source: “Mentors Help Create A Sustainable Pipeline For Women In STEM” – Forbes.com

“One of the things that I really strongly believe in is that we need to have more girls interested in math, science, and engineering. We’ve got half the population that is way underrepresented in those fields and that means that we’ve got a whole bunch of talent…not being encouraged the way they need to.” – President Barack Obama

In last month’s blog spotlight on STEM Education Coalition, we shared some ideas about the effect STEM education will have on the future of our nation’s workforce and economy. WVCO is comprised of numerous science, technology, engineering, and mathematics innovators and we value the growth of STEM education and training in this country and around the world.

It is widely believed an increase of skilled workers are needed in the STEM fields for our economy to remain competitive in the global marketplace. Yet, for some reason, women and other minority groups are underrepresnted in these fields.

An Executive Summary by the Economics and Statistics Administration states that:

• Nearly half of the US workforce are women, yet they’ve held less than 25% of STEM jobs consistently over the last decade.

• Women with STEM jobs earned 33 percent more than comparable women in non-STEM jobs.

• Women hold a disproportionately low share of STEM undergraduate degrees, particularly in
Engineering.

• Women with a STEM degree are less likely than their male counterparts to work in a STEM
occupation; they are more likely to work in education or healthcare.

Source: Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation

“Supporting women STEM students and researchers is not only an essential part of America’s strategy to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world; it is also important to women themselves,” states the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. “And STEM careers offer women the opportunity to engage in some of the most exciting realms of discovery and technological innovation”.

Science and Engineering fields are in need strong innovators regardless of gender, background and nationality. However, there is little doubt that attracting more women and girls — as well as other underrepresented groups into STEM programs will help to make our workforce even stronger and more prepared for the future.

STEM Education Coalition is Working Towards a Better Future

STEM Education

“Effective policies and practices that improve student performance in STEM subjects, increase diversity in these fields, and ensure a well-educated STEM workforce are critical to our nation’s future.” -STEM Education Coalition

You have probably noticed the conversation about STEM, the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, is growing in this country. As a company that innovates and is continually producing custom solutions, we understand the value of a strong education in the STEM fields.

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says employment in occupations related to STEM is projected to grow to more than 9 million between 2012 and 2022. That’s an increase of about 1 million jobs over 2012 employment levels. – Source: stemedcoalition.org

Many feel that a deeper emphasis on STEM education is necessary for our country to continue to remain an economic and technological leader of the global marketplace. To do that, we must inspire our students to excel the areas of science, mathematics, technology and engineering while maintaining a deep appreciation of the arts and humanities.

Renowned physicist Dr. James Gates echoed the need for a better STEM foundation in a recent speech to a group of high school students in Arkansas. “There are half a million jobs that can’t find Americans to hire because they don’t have the skills level,” he says according to this in this article.”These are the jobs you most want to have in the future.”

Organizations like The STEM Education Coalition, a 501c4 non-profit organization, are working to raise awareness with federal and state policymakers along with members of education community about the critical role that STEM education plays in the future of our global economy.  “The future of the economy is in STEM,” says James Brown, the executive director of the STEM Education Coalition in Washington, D.C. “That’s where the jobs of tomorrow will be.”

Some would argue that focusing only on a STEM education could possibly open the door to neglecting the arts and humanities, however this is not the goal of the STEM Education Coalition. “We always want to make the point that a policy focus on ‘STEM’ isn’t really just about four rigid subjects, it’s about ensuring that students have the skills they need to succeed in the modern world,” it states on their website. “Arts and humanities are certainly a part of that equation.”

To learn more about STEM Education Coalition and how to join, visit stemedcoalition.org.

photo credit: Teen scientist Alexa Dantzler in the lab via photopin (license)