THE RISE OF COBOTS
A century after Henry Ford introduced the moving assembly line, carmakers have come a long way, integrating banks of robots, computers and other automation into a high-tech manufacturing process. Today’s auto assembly line is “part human and part machine,” according to The Detroit News.
But “a new generation of smarter, smaller and gentler robots is poised to transform manufacturing again, this time by working alongside their human colleagues.”1 Collaborative robots, or “cobots,” now populate factory floors working in tandem with humans to make operations run more smoothly. Cobots are a newer trend, able to assist in a myriad of ways, from moving parts and improving safety to taking on wearisome tasks to improve the health of workers.
CARMAKERS COMPETE WITH SILICON VALLEY FOR TALENTED “CODAHOLICS”
As consumers demand “connected” cars that sync with smartphones, the importance of computer systems in cars is growing. Ernst & Young predicts over the next decade 104 million vehicles around the world will possess “some form of connectivity.” Reuters reported millions of lines of computer code control important auto operations, from braking to air conditioning. Similar to computers and smartphones, electronic parts like sensors and microprocessors comprise the “backbone” of today’s cars.
Automakers are hiring thousands of software programmers – or “codaholics” – who play an even greater role in vehicle design and operation. The impetus to hire “codaholics” is “increasingly pitting Detroit against its technology partners in Silicon Valley,” reports Reuters. It should not be surprising that the state of California – long considered the nation’s high-tech and R&D capital – has the largest number of engineers employed in the U.S. with 62,000. Michigan, however, with a workforce one-quarter the size of the Golden State’s, has nearly 60,000 engineers in its labor force.
TECHNOLOGICAL ROLE REVERSAL: U.S. MILITARY FOLLOWING AUTOMAKER INNOVATIONS
Not long ago, developments by researchers in the military and space industries found their way into automobiles. But today, prominent scholars are noting a major role reversal: carmakers are leading the way in technological innovations. Though Congress set a goal that a third of the combat fleet be comprised of unmanned vehicles by 2015, The New York Times reports the U.S. armed forces is lagging behind today’s auto manufacturers.
The newspaper noted automakers leading the military in self-driving technology is ironic “given that today’s commercial advances have their roots in research originally sponsored by DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Pentagon’s advanced technology organization.”