Simanaitis Says

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YESTERDAY, I shared robotic tidbits from Isaac Asimov and an Automotive News story about mirror specialist Gentex’s closure of its Mexico facility. Today, we pick up with Gentex’s business in China and the testing of friendly robots in the U.S.

Unlike Gentex Mexico, the company’s Chinese business challenges involved more than just plant obsolescence or wage differentials. Gentex would ship glass and circuit boards to China, where workers would unpack components, put them together and repack the assemblies. At least in part, this folderol was caused by China’s state-owned automakers insisting on local production, even if only final assembly. Otherwise, onerous tariffs are applied.

An interesting gambit evolved, however: Ships bringing Chinese goods of all sorts to the U.S. return half-empty. This enabled Gentex to negotiate a shipping rate that more than countered China’s import tariff on finished goods. Gentex closed its Shanghai facility during the global recession.

Jay Baron, at Ann Arbor’s Center for Automotive Research, notes that the appropriate business model depends on the product: “Things like cut-and-sew seat covers and wire harnesses are relatively low-tech. Those products don’t change a lot, and they’re labor-intensive.” Automotive News writes, “Baron and others believe such labor-intensive products will simply never return to U.S. factories.”

However, given that these products are low-tech and don’t change much, why not develop robots to replace labor-intensive fabrication?

Why not indeed. The second Automotive News article is “Friendly Robots Apply for Supplier Jobs.” It describes an innovative robot currently being tested at Gentex.

YuMi is a two-armed robot from ABB Robotics.

ABB Robotics’ YuMi is specifically designed to work alongside humans in a collaborative workplace. By the way, another of YuMi’s many talents is making and flying paper airplanes.

Before long, won’t smart robots be asking for some free time, just for recreation?

T. Rowe Price amplified on robots getting increasingly smart in a most informative May 19, 2017, newsletter “AI: The Next Big Thing is Here, and Everywhere.” It notes that “Artificial intelligence is developing rapidly, with the potential to disrupt many industries.” T. Rowe Price senses that AI will be a “powerful driver for companies of all sizes, but it mainly will enable the largest players to get even stronger.”

Deep Learning. This and the following image from T. Rowe Price.

At the core of AI expansion is “deep learning,” wherein a computer learns from experience, rather than simply reacting to humans giving it pre-determined programming. T. Rowe Price cites a survey in which “respondents indicated a more than 300-percent increase in investment in cognitive computing [that is, artificial intelligence] in 2017 over 2016.”

AI applications are seen in everything from the Internet and cloud computing to health care, media, and security and defense, along with its growth in automation of factories, drones and service industries.

How much longer before we roll up to the drive-through, punch a few buttons and have an AI voice ask, “Will you have fries with that?” ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2017

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