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Robotic Harvesters Raise Labor Concerns

Last Updated on June 2, 2020 by

The robotics industry is quickly taking off and undergoing a similar revolution to the one that hit the personal computer industry in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  It is expected by the year 2030 robots will be a part of everyday life and we could all be owners of advanced robots within our lifetimes.  But with the recent development of a robot that can efficiently pick fruit better than a human coupled with economic woes, are we facing a labor crisis of unprecedented proportions?

Energid Technologies has come forth with the announcement that it has developed a robotics system that can efficiently pick fruit for a fraction of the eventual cost of picking fruit through conventional means such as by human hands.  If the system proves even half as effective as its developers are hoping, we could be seeing robots replacing citrus growers in the coming years.  And in the United States this would be a major boon to the citrus industry, but may eventually leave millions out of work.  Robots have already had  major impact on the auto industry, with systems capable of assembling automobiles in the works for years at only pennies of the cost it would take for human workers.  Unfortunately, however, this has left thousands of people out of work and ultimately contributed to the job losses and increase in the economic crises of our times.  And with the auto industry expected to take yet another dive, is it possible the use of robotics could be a sort of death knell for various industries?  Should fruit growers take into consideration of the shortcomings of the various industries that became robotically manned before them, or should they embrace a technology that may create a cheaper product?

There is no way to quantify the value of having a human worker over a robot in dollars and cents aside from the overhead they require.  But is there more to the story than simply numbers?  Do living breathing employees help a company in ways that are not considered on paper?

And if systems such as the one proposed by Energid is truly destined to help each system in the future, where will these labor type jobs be replaced for humans?  If a robot is working for a company to grow and harvest crops, and other industries are being equally invaded by mechanical beings, the job market can only shrink.  And yet is this in itself an unsolvable problem?

Various solutions have been proposed including a sponsorship program for robots and families.  If a family were to sponsor each working robotic unit and then receive a wage similar to that the worker would have received, or even a fragment of such a wage it may result in at least a partial or temporary solution for some people.  But with the high initial investment required for most robots, and the high risk of loss, not to mention an intense technological curve of advancement, many people would find it more difficult to become a robotic sponsor than a landlord or the owner of their own company.  As a result, such a program would have to be government backed through law.  It seems robots and labor are yet another challenge we must face in the future.