Drones and Robots and Humans, Oh My!

By Alex Batty, MHI Marketing Communications Coordinator |@mhi_alex

Robotics and automation are pretty hot topics in industrial B2B right now, for both good and bad.

For example, the Teamsters union is in contract talks with UPS this week, and one of their initial demands to have UPS not use drones or driverless vehicles packages.

I mean, from their perspective, it makes sense. People are afraid of losing their jobs, especially when the economy has been rough for… a while.


Everything we’re seeing so far has been robots working WITH humans. Circling back to UPS, another part of the union’s demands was to end deliveries past 9PM, even during peak seasons (which it totally understandable and reasonable). Technology like drone deliveries can help with that. The UPS test case was of a drone launching from a truck already being driven by a human driver on the way to a destination. The thought is that the drones will hit those one off, really out of the way deliveries, while human drivers continue on their routes, increasing efficiency.

Now, I’ve been a delivery driver. There is always that one that doesn’t fit into your nicely made map. A drone delivery to take care of that while I’m still working? I’d have been all over that.

Even in industries like auto making, robots aren’t taking over; they’re working alongside. Robots are taking the hard and dangerous jobs, like heavy lifting and painting, but they aren’t smart or dexterous enough to do it all. In a Honda plant, a robot lifts the rear suspensions into the chassis, but humans are still placing the bolts “in and around the suspension to place the bolts where they need to go, May said. The workers must use their left hand for some bolts and their right hand for others, since they’re operating in a tight, awkward space, and they have to visually inspect their work — all in the span of about 40 seconds.”

And most companies are automating for the sake of automating. It’s about efficiency and safety. They’re also hiring. They’ve got the same problem material handling does: recruiting new people to replace a retiring workforce.

Now I love me some cool tech, but I know what it has the possibility to do, so I’m pretty paranoid when it comes to tech. (There is not a chance on this earth that I will ever use Apple’s FaceID. NEVER. And don’t get me started on how creepy Sophia the Robot is.) But I doubt we’ll ever get to the point where robots will replace humans. There are just some things you can replicate.

So breathe. And embrace the innovation. Because it’s there to make life better. Hopefully.