• The robots are coming -- to your workplace. What it means for the human workers

    By: Bob Dumas

    Updated:

    It's a brave new world in all kinds of workplaces as robots are increasingly taking over many of the tasks people have performed for years. And what's being called the next Industrial Revolution has many workers wondering how they'll fit in.

    There are robots that will mow the lawn, play music, drive your car, and even deliver snacks to college students. 

    At the Milton-CAT warehouse in Milford, a robotic vehicle can navigate tight corners as it delivers goods from one end of the building to the other with twice the efficiency of people who used to do the same job.

    Josh Gaynor, who specializes in operations at the company, says jobs were not cut when the robotic machine was added and overall productivity is up. "We've seen a lot of positive results," Gaynor said. "The employees that are interacting with the vehicle like the results. They see that it’s not as much work for them, but they are able to still stay and do more of what they're doing and be more efficient with it.”

    The system currently in use at Milton-CAT was built by in Cambridge by Vecna Robotics. Dan Patt, Vecna's CEO, says the company's workforce has doubled in the past year as robotics take on an ever-expanding role.

    Patt believes there's a fundamental shift in how robots are now fitting into work environments. "For decades, robotics has been the subject of research laboratories and science fiction ideas, and now we're really seeing this integration of robotics in the workplace, next to people,” he said.

    That will mean a big change in how people work, according to Boston University professor Iain Cockburn, the chair of the university's strategy and innovation department at the business school, who just published a research paper on robotics in the workforce. 

    Historically, robotics were associated with assembly lines, but that’s now changing. Many office functions are now done by computers, even at law firms. "It’s going to be very widespread,” said Cockburn. "Most people’s jobs are going to be affected, and it’s going to accelerate pretty rapidly over the next five to 10 years. I think that’s a good reason for you to think about upgrading your skills, finding ways to use what we can do better than machines, which is imagination, creativity, judgment.”

    Cockburn says the worst thing to do is ignore this gathering storm. “We need to get comfortable with it," he said, adding, "This is coming, slowly at first, but it's going to come all of a sudden and it’s going to reach into parts of our lives that we previously hadn’t thought of.”

    Experts tell Boston 25 News the Massachusetts economy is well positioned to take advantage of this growing industry because of the existing focus on innovation and the educated workforce.

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