Robot Kitchen – People are the Most Important Ingredient

askdrjoanneGuest blog courtesy of Joanne Pransky, who for more than 20 years has worked in the robotics industry to help bridge the gap between the make-believe and the real, focusing on the evolving societal changes brought about by robots.

The long-term success of the U.S. robot industry is in part due to the public’s perception of robots depicted by the media. Even when engineering managers at a manufacturing plant can economically justify the benefits of robotic automation to their higher-ups, if the company’s financial decision makers have a preconceived, negative view of robots (e.g., based on what they see or hear on television or in the movies, or read in mainstream publications), it is certainly much more challenging to change these erroneous views and to re-educate executives as to what is robot fiction and what is robo-fact.

Even one-minute television commercials in which robotics are misrepresented can leave a long lasting false impression, though unbeknownst to the public. 

Take the famous (I consider “infamous” to be a more accurate description) “Suicide Robot” commercial that premiered for an automaker during Super Bowl 2007. This $5.2 million spot, created by the ad agency Deutsch L.A., in collaboration with their client’s marketing executives at a cost of many more additional millions of dollars, featured a robot who dreamt he committed suicide as a result of getting fired from dropping a screw which caused a production line to shut down.

There are many reasons a robot can “drop” a bolt, with none of them being the robot’s fault. Perhaps it was a programming error or end-effector mechanical issue, but regardless, it most certainly was a problem due to human error. 

Another ad, that just recently aired, also shows a major U.S. public company’s lack of knowledge of the use and benefits of robotic automation. Denny’s, in an effort to show-off its new hand-made Grand Slamwich instead “slams” robots and automation with the invalid myth of “Fight the machines. The humans will win.” Two commercial spots, one 30 seconds and the other 15, show a large robot arm making the sandwich in an industrial processed manner in which each ingredient (eggs, meat, bread) is stamped out the same. The monotone robotic voice says, “There’s meat substitute, there’s cheese substitute, ever think there might one day be a human substitute?….Breakfast has been taken over by the machines…Fight back with the real breakfast sandwich made with real cooks.”

“Real cooks,” the ad shows, as in human cooks who aren’t wearing real (or any) gloves. Isn’t that how we all like our food? With strange, unprotected human hands touching our bacon and cutting our sandwich? Denny’s, is food “aesthetics” more important to you than safe food handling?

Apparently Denny’s doesn’t know that food-handling companies already use robot automation to achieve the same results as the human touch. Pepperidge Farm, with its award winning innovative use of robots and machine vision, purposefully puts their two halves of Milano sandwich cookies imperfectly together to make them look naturally homemade.

McDonald’s uses robotics for its fries to also look like the human touch – a heaping bunch of French fries with the proper weight and no overage is inserted into a box or bag in the same random fashion as if a human had put them in.

How ‘bout a human that can earn more than $40 per hour running the robots instead of minimum wage in food preparation? 

Denny’s marketing execs, I invite you to attend the upcoming International Robots, Vision, and Motion Control Show this June to learn the reality about robots and how robotic automation can help you to increase your product quality and reduce your costs.

At the very least, learn from other’s mistake – before spending millions on television commercials, you should consider having your ad agencies communicate with your engineers in order to get the proper message out to the public.

Editor’s Note:

Ms. Pransky is Moderator for Session 8: The Latest Advances in Service Robotics, 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m., Wednesday, June 10, at the International Robots, Vision & Motion Control Conference (full agenda).

As a Robotics Industry Ambassador, Joanne’s mission is to facilitate the integration of robots into everyday life – helping people understand the emotional and psychological aspects of a technology that will have more of an impact on their lives than the automobile, PC, and the internet. Joanne has researched and lectured nationally and internationally on issues concerning the human/robot relationship since 1986, and has appeared on television and radio. She will be among the many attendees this year at the International Robots, Vision & Motion Control Show, June 9-11, in Rosemont (Chicago), Illinois. 


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