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Automation: Research on Robot Garbage Collectors Has Proved the Concept Works
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March 01, 2016, 06:18 PM
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I reported last summer about efforts to replace human garbage collectors with robotic ones.

Things are moving along expeditiously in Sweden. As is often the case, the spin is designed to distract from eventual job destruction. The garbage project is touted as a “fun thought experiment” about the future of automation rather than a long-term scheme to get rid of expensive human workers. The robots will be helpers and make the job easier for the humans! Don’t worry, little workers!

The research appears quite serious: it is a partnership of the Volvo company, three universities (including Penn State) and a waste recycling company. The Volvo Group found a fresh young student, Daniel Adolfsson, to explain what’s up with the robot project — so unthreatening:

As it happens, garbage collector can be a well paying job, given the right union representation. CNN reported on February 24 about The $100,000 job: Garbage workers. That’s on the high side, but the job normally pays decently because of its physical unpleasantness, including terrible hours and stinky materials that must be handled. And it doesn’t require graduation from high school.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in May 2014, 115,170 persons were employed as Refuse and Recyclable Material Collectors. The mean annual wage is listed as $36,030. A posting on unpleasant jobs puts the average California wage at $16.04/hour but notes that in some places, the overtime can bring a tidy $60K.

Cost-cutters would love to see those wages go away. Automation looks nice on the budgetary side when incoming cash is decreasing and economic growth is slowing, but part of the reason for that shrinkage is because ”Smart machines mean slowing the creation of jobs” according to economist Peter Morici. A robust economy requires a strong market, and that means workers getting paychecks.

The replacement of human workers by robots and improved algorithms is only beginning. A 2013 study from Oxford University researchers estimated that nearly half of US jobs were at risk from automation in the next 20 years. The Gartner tech consulting firm has forecast that one-third of jobs will be done by smart machines by 2025.

There’s not a lot that can be done to forestall the automation juggernaut, but Washington can at least end the importation of millions of immigrant workers. They are not required now or in the future. America needs ZERO immigrant workers, because citizens will want the remaining jobs.

Volvo’s Trash-Emptying Robot Finally Becomes Reality, PSFK.com, March 1 , 2016

We recently wrote about ROAR: RObot-based Autonomous Refuse Handling. The vision for the project is to eliminate the need for humans to perform heavy-lifting during garbage collection. The system has two main parts: robots that can transport trash bins and a connected garbage truck where a garbage man controls the robots on a dashboard.

Now, the results are in: The proof of concept worked. Students from three universities collaborated with the Volvo Group and the waste recycling company, Renova. The company recently unveiled a video testing the project.

Here’s how this system would operate in the real world.

A drone on the roof of the refuse truck scans the area and assists the robot to find the bins:

self_emptying_trash_3_psfk.gifIt picks up your garbage, and it takes it to the truck.

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The robots don’t look like humanoids, but this is just the prototype testing phase. The purpose of ROAR is to demonstrate how we, in the near future, will use smart machines to assist with a broad range of activities in society. This technology can be applied in many areas. The collection of waste is just one example.