A recent report from the Wall Street Journal outlines how pretending to be a robot may be the next big job industry. Humans regularly take control of robotic delivery drones and other autonomous bots to add the “human touch” robots are incapable of.
In an article titled “The Next Hot Job: Pretending to Be a Robot,” the Wall Street Journal outlines how humans are being employed to remotely pilot robots in multiple industries and how this field could continue to grow. The WSJ uses the example of Michael Niedermayer who has both flown drones for the U.S. Army and piloted delivery robots for Silicon Valley startups.
The WSJ writes:
Disrupting “last-mile” delivery—historically the domain of box trucks, bike couriers and personal vehicles—“felt like a great fit for my military background,” says Mr. Niedermayer.
His story is hardly unique. Across industries, engineers are building atop work done a generation ago by designers of military drones. Whether it’s terrestrial delivery robots, flying delivery drones, office-patrolling security robots, inventory-checking robots in grocery stores or remotely piloted cars and trucks, the machines that were supposed to revolutionize everything by operating autonomously turn out to require, at the very least, humans minding them from afar.
Another example used is that of a woman in San Meto, California who has a job patrolling offices for Cobalt Robotics as a security officer — except she does this via a large robot remote-controlled from her desk.
“We get a live feed of every event that happens at every site we patrol,” says Ms. Kongnarinh, who now works day shifts. “We can see if it’s a person, motion, anything like that, and we can jump in when we have to.”
Nearly all companies using “autonomous” robots have to depend on what the head of Postmates’ technology skunkworks, Ali Kashani, calls the 1-to-N ratio—N being the number of robots a single human can handle.
But many experts believe that remote controlling some things such as cars could be extremely dangerous:
“Remote control of cars is the dumbest and the most insane idea I have ever heard,” says Mary Cummings, a professor of electrical and computer engineering and the director of the Humans and Autonomy Lab at Duke University. “I’ll be the first person they should call as an expert witness when a death inevitably occurs,” she adds.
Companies working with remote-controlled robots know there are risks, and try to mitigate themin a few ways. Some choose only to operate slow-moving machines in simple environments—as in Postmates’s sidewalk delivery—so that even the worst disaster isn’t all that bad.
Read the full report in the Wall Street Journal here.