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October 3, 2018

Look out construction workers; Japan’s new robot might steal your job one day

by John_A

Boston Dynamics’ Atlas robot is capable of some impressive feats, but researchers from Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) institute have created what looks like an eminently more practical and down-to-earth humanoid robot. Case in point: While Atlas is busy showing off its skills by performing picture-perfect backflips, AIST’s robot showcases its abilities by carrying out regular construction tasks, such as hammering up sheets of drywall. Heck, even its name — HRP-5P — carries the no-nonsense, no-frills naming approach of a 1990s desktop PC.

HRP-5P might be designed to carry out regular DIY jobs, but there is nothing regular about its abilities. Based on what we can see in its demo video and accompanying literature, the robot utilizes impressive object recognition, motion planning, and environmental measurement technology — such as the ability to pick up boards, place them against joists, and then secure them in place using a drill. While we’d need to see evidence of it performing these tasks outside of lab conditions to ensure that this is as good as it appears, it certainly looks extremely promising.

Robots that can replace humans at a number of physical tasks is nothing new, of course. From assembling Ikea furniture to picking berries on farms to, frankly, whatever other job you can think of, machines increasingly offer an alternative to pesky human workers with their propensity for taking vacations and refusing to work much more than eight hours a day.

In the case of HRP-5P, the reason its creation is a bit more location-specific, however. Japan has long had a problem with declining birth rates, meaning that there won’t necessarily be enough able-bodied young people to look after the growing elderly population. While we don’t necessarily want to put grandma in the care of a robot that io comfortable using power tools, machines such as this could one day fill gaps in the job market, particularly in manual labor areas like the construction industry.

Given that millions of contractors in the U.S. could conceivably find their jobs disrupted by a robot such as this, it’s difficult not to be concerned about the possibilities of machines like HRP-5P if commercialized. The news isn’t totally bad, though: According to a recent report from the World Economic Forum, although the number of previously human jobs that can be carried out by a machine is on the rise, plenty more roles are being created as a result. Just don’t expect too many of them to involve drywall!

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