How Can Robotics Professionals Take Advantage of Social Networking Sites?

February 25, 2009

By Jeffrey A. Burnstein, President, Robotic Industries Association

Social networking is one of the hottest trends on the internet right now. Every day the leading sites seem to develop new ways to keep people connected (such as watching President Obama’s speech last night while chatting online with others doing the same).

Recently I took ownership of the Robotic Industries Association group on Linkedin. It’s a growing group of more than 240 people, thanks to the efforts of Les Chewning who founded it and graciously passed the torch on to me. I hope to see it continue its growth and become a site for lively discussions on a variety of robotics topics.

I’ve also recently joined Plaxo and even have a page on Facebook. I have avoided MySpace, which appears to be more for teenage girls (at least based on my daughters and their friends’ regular use of it). And, I haven’t even investigated Twitter yet.

How about you? Do you belong to these sites? Do you use them? Do you think they can play a valuable role in connecting robotics professionals? If you don’t use them, why not?

It could turn out that the social networking trend will be short-lived. But, looking at the huge numbers (Facebook alone says it has 175 million registered users), it looks like these sites and others will be around for a while.

I’d love your input on how RIA can help its members by using these sites.

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Can We Really Trust the Forecasters?

February 23, 2009

By Jeffrey A. Burnstein, President, Robotic Industries Association

 

As I was making my plans for this past weekend, I nearly scuttled several activities because the weatherman was predicting a major snowstorm. But, I decided to go ahead with everything and am really glad I did, since we ended up with a very minor storm by Michigan winter standards. My wife and I would have missed out on a great time with friends on Saturday evening if we had heeded all of Friday’s warnings about terrible road conditions and huge snowfalls.

 

I sometimes feel that economists are like weather forecasters. Just because they make a negative prediction doesn’t mean it’s going to be accurate. Lately, most of the economic predictions I’ve seen have been quite disheartening. And, as one of the readers of this blog points out, the negative sentiments certainly don’t help speed our recovery.

 

So I was delighted today when our Director of Market Analysis, Paul Kellett, passed along a positive story indicating that the National Association of Business Economists predict that the U.S. economy will begin to recover in the second half of this year and begin expanding again in 2010.

 

Job losses should steadily diminish as 2009 goes on. Declining home sales should bottom out by mid-year. The U.S. should be the leader in coming out of the global recession.

 

Will this positive outlook be more accurate than the negative ones? Not necessarily. But, it does serve as a reminder that we could be closer to the end of this recession than to the beginning, which would be great news for all of us.

 

So, don’t scuttle all of your plans for investing and growing your business. Otherwise, you could miss out on very real opportunities that exist. It’s often a mistake to place all of your bets on predictions of bad news and snowstorms!

 


Is the Weak Economy Driving People to Drink?

February 20, 2009

By Jeffrey A. Burnstein, President, Robotic Industries Association

 

I thought the stimulus package received a lukewarm reception, but that was nothing in comparison to the strong negative reactions from many people to the mortgage bailout plan announced by President Obama. Again, I have no idea if this is a good plan or not, but it’s certainly not changing the negative feelings everyone seems to have about the economy.

 

Global stock markets continue to fall. Unemployment continues to rise. The airways are filled with nothing but negative news. It’s enough to drive someone to drink. Or is it?

 

I assumed that as the problems Americans face get worse, sales of wine would surely increase. It actually comforted me to think that when I reach for that occasional glass of wine or two that I was helping one sector of the economy remain strong. Now it appears that even wine sales aren’t immune. As this article from Wine Spectator indicates the parent company of Kendall Jackson wines recently laid off 20% of its staff. American consumers are going out to restaurants less and buying less expensive wines than in the past. This puts the squeeze on many wineries.

 

So, this Sunday night when I sit down t watch the Academy Awards with a glass of wine (a $9.99 Columbia Crest Grand Estates Merlot), it won’t be as relaxing as in the past, knowing that even the wine industry is suffering. As for Hollywood, the recession means fewer and less lavish Oscar parties, according to reports, so I don’t expect to find much “escapism” there.   

 

But, I do look forward to the Oscars this year. I’m rooting for “Slumdog Millionaire” to win Best Picture and lots of other awards. It was filmed in Mumbai, where I went with our recent Mission to India. Great film, captures the city perfectly, and a true “rags to riches” story since it only cost $15 million to produce and nearly was released direct to video. It now stands on the brink of capturing the industry’s top honor. That’s a “good news” story to look forward to.

 

Cheers!


Burnstein’s Blog

February 18, 2009

By Jeffrey A. Burnstein, President, Robotic Industries Association

President Obama signed the stimulus package into law. Will it work? You can read opinions on every side of the issue. It’s too big, too small, too much spending, not enough tax cuts, too slow in rolling out — nobody seems all that enthused about it. The stock market certainly isn’t, hitting three month lows this morning prior to the official signing.

I attended the AIA Business Conference two weeks ago, where David Littman, a respected economist, told me that even though he felt the package was terrible because of all the government spending included, it would be helpful to have the legislation completed. Why? Because the uncertainty of what would be in the bill, when it would be signed, how much in spending and tax cuts would be included, etc., was a drag on the economy. Nobody would act until they knew the final details of the plan. And, the longer the delay in enacting it, the worse the economy would get.

So, now it’s passed, and I hope it works. I can’t say when we’ll start to see a recovery (latter half of this year, early next year, late next year, or maybe 2011, depending upon who you speak with). But, eventually we will recover and all of us need to be positioned for growth when it happens.

Every company is dealing with the crisis in its own way. While many are cutting back on people, benefits, travel, marketing and other areas, some are getting more aggressive, hoping to take market share when the turnaround comes.

My question today for you is: do you think the stimulus package will speed the recovery in the US? Delay it? Or, have no impact? Leave a comment and let me know!


RIA: Defender of Good; Enemy of Evil Robots

February 16, 2009

By Brian Huse

Director, Marketing & PR, Robotic Industries Association

 

In a twist of irony, the Robotic Industries Association has had to defend its members against Internet robots that roam cyberspace and create a nuisance in the form of that evil material known as spam.

 

The first thing we did when we redesigned Robotics Online was to eliminate email addresses from landing pages. There is a practice of harvesting email addresses from websites and using them in spam campaigns. We don’t want to make it easy for spammers, so RIA’s staff prefers not to include email information in the pages it creates. Members can add their own content but are encouraged to avoid the use of email addresses and to rely on the forms we provide.

 

Contact on many sites is facilitated through online forms. When an RIA member gets an RFQ form, for instance, they see it came from Robotics Online. This is good reinforcement of the member/association relationship.

 

Spammers, however, care not about good relationships and have robots to fill out forms. Robotics Online has “invisible” code to defend against this nuisance. Essentially, the code tricks a cyber robot into filling out a field that causes the form to deactivate. A technical battle can proceed from here or a more aggressive defense can be employed.

 

captchaMany of us have seen the screen prompts that require a user to enter words that look curvy and distorted. These are called CAPTCHAs and create an additional burden on the user.

 

Another trick is to require a login. Same drawback: it interferes with the user experience.

 

Thanks to the never ending struggle with evil robots, we all must decide whether to provide hassle-free access to our sites or force visitors to jump through hoops. For many, the answer depends on what information is shared.

 

RIA members have to login to Robotics Online for special privileges such as the ability to post information. Members with passwords have a lot of power. They help keep the site fresh and useful, and they propagate their business story through case studies, technical papers and even video. Meanwhile, a visitor can run searches all day for free and easily find content that matches their needs. This leads to contacts which are delivered via forms.

 

And in the irony of ironies, we have to defend these forms against robots. But some robots are good and are not employed in the pursuit of evil. Google and other highly regarded search engines send spiders all over the World Wide Web to search and index sites. Robotics Online is optimized to attract these good spiders. Time and again, member content is served back through Google searches with pages straight from Robotics Online. Since the site is regularly updated, and since it has a “dot org” designation, and thanks to the synergy of so much related content, it is very popular with search engine spiders.

 

It is important to make websites that work well with search engines and that deliver a good (easy) user experience. Hindering either can be a detriment. This issue has many angles to consider, and we hope our special “invisible” code works on the forms, but we know spammers will never give up – some even use live people to do their dirty work.

 

How do you feel about CAPTCHAs? What tactics do you use to defend against spam? Share your thoughts here. Below is a link for comments.


Sealing Enthusiasm for Robots

February 5, 2009

By Brian Huse, Director, Marketing & PR, Robotic Industries Association

 

Kids are exposed to high technology ideas all the time at school, and robotics has been a perennial favorite at all grade levels. Teachers and mentors get excited about robotics. Companies like Lego keep turning out new products for school-age children. Homemade robots are popping up in schools and bionic hands are getting a grip in the real world.

 

Industrial robots hold a charm that most other types of manufacturing equipment will never know. Even so, overhead gantry robots rarely excite fans the way R2D2 does. But as kids gear their imaginations toward robots they can take this enthusiasm into a real career later in life.

 

Today, robots are gaining acceptance in many places and many ways. Like the sealing process for joining parts on toys and even more serious stuff like medical devices. We wouldn’t want our kids exposed to some of the fumes that emit from the joining process, but we would love for them to be on the team that makes a better mouse trap and improves the world. All the better if they work with robots that do the dirty work. 

Robotics Online covers robotic sealing in mid-March. Thanks to experts on the topic, Robotics Online delves into all the factors that contribute to success with robots for joining applications. Bring your youthful enthusiasm and learn how to incorporate robotics into your business in a budget-friendly way. 

 

Swirl, bead and multi-nozzle examples depicted.

Swirl, bead and multi-nozzle examples depicted.