- BY ALEXANDER GEORGE
icture an assembly line not that isn’t made up of robotic arms spewing sparks to weld heavy steel, but a warehouse of plastic-spraying printers producing light, cheap and highly efficient automobiles.
If Jim Kor’s dream is realized, that’s exactly how the next generation of urban runabouts will be produced. His creation is called the Urbee 2 and it could revolutionize parts manufacturing while creating a cottage industry of small-batch automakers intent on challenging the status quo.
Urbee’s approach to maximum miles per gallon starts with lightweight construction – something that 3-D printing is particularly well suited for. The designers were able to focus more on the optimal automobile physics, rather than working to install a hyper efficient motor in a heavy steel-body automobile. As the Urbee shows, making a car with this technology has a slew of beneficial side effects.
Jim Kor is the engineering brains behind the Urbee. He’s designed tractors, buses, even commercial swimming pools. Between teaching classes, he heads Kor Ecologic, the firm responsible for the 3-D printed creation.
“We thought long and hard about doing a second one,” he says of the Urbee. “It’s been the right move.”
Kor and his team built the three-wheel, two-passenger vehicle at RedEye, an on-demand 3-D printing facility. The printers he uses create ABS plastic via Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM). The printer sprays molten polymer to build the chassis layer by microscopic layer until it arrives at the complete object. The machines are so automated that the building process they perform is known as “lights out” construction, meaning Kor uploads the design for a bumper, walk away, shut off the lights and leaves. A few hundred hours later, he’s got a bumper. The whole car – which is about 10 feet long – takes about 2,500 hours.
After a period of intensive discussion and collaboration, Derek Woodgate , President of The Futures Lab, Inc. and Maggie Duval, the CEO of Plutopia Productions Inc, have decided upon a merger of the two organizations under The Futures Lab, Inc. banner. The new business unit within The Futures Lab, Inc. is titled FEEL (Future Entertainment and Events Lab), will be located in Austin, Texas. This is an apt name given Derek’s extensive consulting, authoring and speaking work over the past decade on the future of entertainment, media and communications and his input as Chief Creative Officer at Plutopia Productions. Derek has become recognized as an authority on the application of emerging and immersive technologies and the changing human in the design and production of experiential entertainment with his creation of what are termed “Sense Events.” These multisensory, immersive, interactive events show in practice many of the wonderful, creative inventions and innovations that are under way to future‐proof and augment our future, with content often reflecting ideas resulting from The Futures Lab’s consulting assignments.
The Futures Lab, Inc is in it seventeenth year of operation and will continue its global consulting activities for a myriad of categories and world-renowned clients, extending its network both in terms of territories and personnel. With sister companies/partner offices now in eight countries and having conducted consulting work in over 20 countries worldwide, the new set up will enable FEEL to expand it services which include the creation, design, content acquisition, rendering, curation, production, implementation and marketing of future focused ‘sense events’ into new territories. Plutopia events in the US have always had an international character, involving artists from across the globe.
Maggie was CEO of Plutopia Productions for six years. In addition to the revolutionary five SXSWi and two SXSW Music related ‘sense events’ that she produced during that period, Maggie also created and produced Showdown at the Unobtainium: Tesla vs. Edison and numerous other events featuring famous futures-related speakers and performers, such as Bruce Sterling, Cory Doctorow, Douglas Ruhskoff, etc.
Whilst most of the existing Plutopia Productions team will be integrated into FEEL, Maggie has already confirmed the addition of Randall Aretoo Squires as the Technical Producer. Randall was the technical producer on the Plutopia FutureMusic Summit 2012 and Maggie’s Showdown at the Unobtainium.
These changes coincide with Derek’s recent appointment as Consultant in Residence at DAEL: the Digital Arts and Entertainment Lab at Georgia State University.
Derek Woodgate article in the Futurist and Beinkadescent.com
Regular updates on emerging trends, technologies and snippets of interest about the future @ https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Futures-Lab-Inc/147925868632438
Derek Woodgate to speak on the topic of future of building and future living spaces at the Leadership Summit on Design Innovation and Technology in La Jolla, CA in January 2013.
The Future of Work
The Avatar Economy
Are remote workers the brains inside tomorrow’s robots?
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
In our economy, many of the jobs most resistant to automation are those with the least economic value. Just consider the diversity of tasks, unpredictable terrains, and specialized tools that a landscaper confronts in a single day. No robot is intelligent enough to perform this $8-an-hour work.
But what about a robot remotely controlled by a low-wage foreign worker?
Hollywood has been imagining the technologies we would need. Jake Sully, the wheelchair-bound protagonist in James Cameron’s Avatar, goes to work saving a distant planet via a wireless connection to a remote body. He interacts with others, learns new skills, and even gets married—all while his “real” body is lying on a slab, miles away.
Several elements of this scenario are no longer science fiction. Companies now produce and sell robots (including the VGo, iRobot’s Ava, and Willow Garage’s Texai) that allow users to navigate through a remote working environment, interacting by means of a computer screen. So far these systems have limited functionality (some dub them “Skype on wheels”), and they’ve mostly been used for high-value problems involving costly experts. InTouch Health’s RP-7, for example, was designed to let doctors remotely diagnose stroke patients, since smaller hospitals often can’t afford a neurologist on staff.
The next wave promises much more capability per dollar. VGo’s robot can’t match the RP-7′s functionality, but at $6,000, it’s already a 12th the price. What’s more, DARPA recently issued a robotic challenge involving a complex set of tasks to be performed by a semiautonomous, remote-controlled humanoid robot—driving, walking through rubble, replacing a valve.
Progress toward the “avatarization” of the economy has been limited by two technical factors that don’t involve robotics at all. They are the speed of Internet connections and the latency involved in long-distance communication. Connecting a Thai worker to a robotic avatar in Japan with enough signal fidelity to carry out nonroutine work may be more difficult than engineering a cheap robotic chassis and related control systems.
How much bandwidth is enough? A “perfect” (just like being there) connection to a robotic telepresence system must accommodate a signal of 160 megabits per second. Theoretically, too, the distance between robot and worker shouldn’t exceed 1,800 miles: any farther and the operator could get confused by the time lag as signals travel round-trip. Realistically, however, avatar workers can probably be effective janitors or doctors even if they are farther away and sensory fidelity is weaker. The VGo runs on Verizon’s 4G network, for instance, and the U.S. military’s drone-control facility in Italy is 2,700 miles from Afghanistan.
Big targets: Low-wage workers may one day operate robots in other countries. Here, an 1,800 mile range of operation is shown for various outsourcing centers. At longer ranges, time delays would make controlling robots more difficult.
High-end users in major U.S. and European cities will reach the 160-megabits-per-second threshold between 2014 and 2015 if current trends hold. Avatar workers are not far behind. Mexico, China, Poland, and Thailand have added 26.4 million high-bandwidth Internet users in the last 12 months. These countries have relatively low labor costs and are close to more developed countries. More than half of U.S. states are within 1,800 miles of the Mexican border; if workers in the Dominican Republic are considered as well, only Alaska and the northern tip of Maine are out of range.
Telepresence means that in theory, ten, a hundred, or a thousand times as many workers could compete (virtually) for the same work. No matter how bad things get in Madrid or Houston, an avatar worker somewhere else could sell his or her labor for less. The same outsourcing logic applies to many high-wage jobs that rely on physical presence and motor skills, including the work done by cardiologists and machinists.
Previous waves of outsourcing should remind us: the legal, political, and social obstacles to an avatar economy may prove greater than the technical ones. How will the meaning of work change when a gardener bot is controlled by a different remote worker every day? Or when one driver supervises 50 mostly autonomous taxis? What—and how much—work will be left in areas with the highest labor and housing costs?
Outsourcing physical work would bring huge economic gains, but it would also cause problems. In contrast to Cameron’s movie, Alex Rivera’s independent film Sleep Dealers offers a bleak vision of the avatar economy: the Mexican protagonist turns to the black market for risky surgical implantation of virtual-reality “nodes” that allow him to interface with stateside worker bots.
I believe outsourcing of nonroutine labor via robotic telepresence could begin to occur on a mass scale within a decade. Let’s take the time to manage the avatar economy thoughtfully while it is still young.
Matt Beane is a doctoral student in information technology at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, where he studies the effects of robotic telepresence and artificial intelligence on work.