The Bots Are Here But They Still Need Us

by Ruth Seeley

When automation implementation coincides with layoffs, it’s hard not to blame the machines and wonder if we too will have soon have outlived our professional usefulness. As more processes are automated and companies report potential time and cost savings, autonomous cars, delivery vehicles, and warehouse bots are suddenly doing the work of people we used to know.

The good news: an interdisciplinary research team from the universities of Göttingen, Duisburg-Essen and Trier has observed that cooperation between humans and machines can work much better than just human or just robot teams alone. The results were published in the International Journal of Advanced Manufacturing Technologies.

The team identified the requirements for successful human-machine interaction and determined that in many corporate and business situations, decisions will continue to be driven by people. The researchers, therefore, conclude that companies should pay more attention to their employees in the technical implementation of automation.

The research team simulated a process from production logistics, such as the typical supply of materials for use in the car or engineering industries. A team of human drivers, a team of robots and a mixed team of humans and robots were assigned transport tasks using vehicles. The time they needed was measured. The results were that the mixed team of humans and robots were able to beat the other teams; this coordination of processes was most efficient and caused the fewest accidents. This was quite unexpected, as the highest levels of efficiency are often assumed to belong to those systems that are completely automated.

“This brings a crucial ray of hope when considering efficiency in all discussions involving automation and digitization,” says the first author of the study, Professor Matthias Klumpp from the University of Göttingen. “There will also be many scenarios and uses in the future where mixed teams of robots and humans are superior to entirely robotic machine systems. At the least, excessive fears of dramatic job losses are not justified from our point of view.”

Source:  University of Gottingen

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