Robots, common in manufacturing jobs, increasingly spread to office professions: Humanoid or human-like robots already perform tasks in hotels, in stores, and in restaurants. They cook, serve, or advise customers. They communicate like humans via speech, gestures, and sometimes even facial expressions. In Japan, China, and increasingly in the US, a real robot hype can be observed – in the US and Japan almost half, in the UK around a third of today’s occupations are at risk of being replaced by robots/in the process of robotisation.
This trend is on the verge of being transferred to Germany, and motivated by reducing personnel costs dramatically. “But many companies are deploying robots in an unreflected manner, without knowing beforehand what these changes mean for either employees, corporate culture, or customer relationships,” Professor Ruth Stock-Homburg, Institute of Marketing & Human Resource Management, Department of Law and Economics of TU Darmstadt, warns. Surprisingly, these dramatic changes happen against the background that employees and corporate culture are in fact top success drivers of today’s companies.
Reluctance against Robotic Team Members
“The sense and nonsense of deploying robots in office and service professions highly depends on the characteristics of the task,” Stock-Homburg states. 82 % of respondents considered robots as valuable support in performing daily, routine-based work tasks, but only two out of three respondents believe they would have fun working with robots. Around half of the respondents suspect robots of being easy to use. In terms of creativity or emotions in a work context, robots given little credit: after all, more than 80 % of respondents believe that robots can express emotions; more than 30 % even believe that robots are able to recognize feelings or be creative. A surprisingly high percentage against the background that so far, both creative and emotional behaviors of robots are largely programmed and do not emerge autonomously. Here, today’s technical knowledge and subjective perceptions of robots are significantly apart. In addition, many respondents anticipate that “artificial intelligence” will soon enable self-learning and autonomous behaviors of robots.
The question to which extent today’s office workers would accept robots, was investigated in a cultural comparison between Germany and the US: More than 60 % of the respondents in both countries can imagine to be supported by a robot assistant. However, in this case the robot is expected to perform rather repetitive, unpleasant tasks, such as filing and documentation, appointment bookings, and messenger or research services.
Interestingly, 21 % of respondents would trust a robot more than a human counterpart. Reasons can be found in lower error rates, higher predictability, and continuity in behavior. However, the majority of respondents would not like a robot to express emotions at work: “Otherwise, I would turn that thing off,” the tenor of the respondents on this issue. At eye level as colleagues, only every third person would accept a robot: “Robots can only make programmed decisions; their autonomy is very limited,” said one respondent. One can imagine that robots provide information in meetings, take notes, or act as company database that immediately provide facts. The majority of respondents suspect robots to be unable to link complex issues or have detailed conversations with employees.
As a leader, robots are almost taboo: After all, 15% of American respondents and 8 % of German respondents would accept a humanoid robot boss. Why so few? “A robot has no empathy for my family situation or other concerns that radiate into the job” an interviewee expresses. “A machine cannot judge a man… and cannot serve as role model,” argues another respondent. Those individuals who can imagine a Robo-boss, name lower errors rates and subjectivity as reasons. “Robots are just and less moody,” elaborates one respondent.
According to Professor Stock-Homburg, robotics will make many classic jobs expendable. “But new and more conceptual jobs for our future generations will automatically be created. Companies should elicit these future jobs at an early stage and create new occupational fields before deploying robots.” The Darmstadt Future of Work-Study (2016) also shows that companies that deal intensively with new occupational fields are more successful.
New Service Age
Will robots start a new service era? The answer according to the study series is “Definitely yes,” says Moritz Merkle, member of the research team in Darmstadt, “75 % of our respondents would accept services by a robot as a customer.” And in Merkle’s experimental series with around 300 participants, a humanoid reception robot scored nearly identical in terms of customer satisfaction levels and only slightly lower in terms of service quality than its human counterparts.
Most respondents can imagine service robots as receptionists at information desks, as cashiers in supermarkets and car rentals, at the counter of train stations, airports, or even banks, as well as in catering. However, more than 80 % of the respondents prefer personal contact with people for sensitive, personal services, such as complex financial consultations, psychological or medical care. “In the future, people will remain central – robots will initially stay means to an end,” says Jasmine Plechatsch, CEO of Leap in Time and co-founder of the Future Innovation Lab.
Facts about the study series [email protected]:
· 2 experiments with 300 participants overall
· 2 surveys with more than 400 managers and employees in Germany and in the US
· 3 qualitative studies with 80 interviewees
Have you ever noticed that when heated a film of oil in a pan doesn’t remain completely flat? Instead, it forms a wavy pattern that resembles the exterior of an orange. These sorts of deformations inspired a group of researchers at the Technical University of Darmstadt, in Germany, to explore whether they could be used to improve and streamline microfabrication processes.
The film of oil is a classic example of a hydrodynamic systems with a liquid-gas or liquid-liquid interface while, for instance,. Other examples include bubbles and the tiny droplets of fat in milk have a liquid-liquid interface. Planar liquid films, like the oil film, are particularly mechanically unstable and may undergo changes in morphology if not kept at a uniform temperature.
Only sufficiently thin liquid films undergo significant surface deformations upon exposure to stresses at the surface, while highly regular periodic flow patterns develop in the bulk of thicker films when subjected to the same stresses.
In marked contrast to thinner films, thicker films don’t show significant surface deformations. So, in the context of developing unconventional microfabrication techniques, most efforts have focused on the interfacial instabilities of very thin films.
These efforts indicated that accentuated patterns can be achieved, but they are unfortunately highly irregular in the spread direction of the film. This fundamental drawback can be traced to the same reason a water jet running from a faucet eventually splits up into droplets: surface tension.
As the group describes in Applied Physics Letters, from AIP Publishing, they combined the highly regular convection pattern that forms in thicker layers with strong interfacial deformations possible only in much thinner liquid films. “Unlike previous work addressing systems with several interfaces, in our approach each layer has a vastly different initial thickness than the other,” said Iman Nejati, the paper’s lead author and a scientific researcherPh.D. student at the Institute for Nano and Microfluidics, Center of Smart Interfaces, TU Darmstadt.
This approach essentially involves sandwiching a thin film of oil that’s sensitive to irradiation with ultraviolet (UV) light between a solid planar substrate and a much thicker layer of another immiscible liquid. This implies that the system has not only a liquid-gas interface as the initial example of the oil film in a pan but also a liquid-liquid interface.
“Exposing this multilayer system to a surprisingly small temperature difference in the direction of the layering causes stresses at the liquid-gas interface because of a temperature-dependent surface tension,” said Nejati. “These stresses drive rotating cellular flow patterns in the thicker layer, which are highly periodic in the spread direction of that layer.”
Rather than using the stresses caused by the temperature-dependent surface tension directly to pattern the film, the group’s approach relies on the flow pattern in the thicker layer to deform the thinner film beneath.
This strategy enables “patterning large areas with highly regular structures in a parallel fashion — all structures are fabricated at the same time — in a single process step, which saves time and reduces costs,” explained Nejati. “Since the structures are generated from a liquid, without tools making mechanical contact with the working material, the surface is very smooth and doesn’t require any further processing.”
And by engineering the temperature distribution along the liquid-gas interface of the thicker layer, the convection cells and deformation of the thin film can be adapted to meet the specifications of a desired structure of interest. Once the desired deformation is achieved, it’s “frozen” in place by irradiation with UV light.
The combination of the named advantageousse are highly desirable features of the new technique are highly desirable because all common microfabrication technologies — including photolithography, printing, or embossing — fail to meet at least one of these criteria. “Given the relative simplicity of the equipment needed for our method, and how easily it adapts to specific situations, it can be used for manufacturing low-quantity products as well,” Nejati added.
What applications does the group envision for their method? For starters, it’s ideal for fabricating microlens arrays. “These arrays locally enhance light intensity and can be used by the optics industry in integral imaging systems, unconventional photolithography, and photovoltaic systems,” explained Nejati. “For photovoltaics, an array of lenses placed atop a solar cell can serve as a light collector to enhance the efficiency of the photovoltaic system by making it less sensitive to the inclination angle of the solar light with respect to the cell surface.” The group’s method could easily be integrated into the manufacturing process of solar cells.
In the near future, “there will be no direct need to solidify the structures by UV light,” he noted. “Instead, the array of lenses can remain in the liquid state, which allows us to change the periodicity of the liquid lenses if, say, the temperature difference driving the convection cells is varied. This should contribute to the development of tunable lens arrays.”
The Technische Universität Darmstadt (Technical University of Darmstadt or Darmstadt University of Technology), commonly referred to as TU Darmstadt is a research university in the city of Darmstadt, Germany.
It was founded in 1877 and received the right to award doctorates in 1899. In 1882 it was the first university in the world to set up a chair in electrical engineering, in 1883 the first faculty for electrical engineering was founded there.