Investment Opportunities in Automated Economy

When will the jobs return? That’s been the question in this glacially slow recovery.

The answer? Many of jobs won’t be coming back, and that’s painful news for all of us.

Job creation ebbed for years before the 2007-2008 recession and is likely to fall far short of what it was in previous decades.

Low consumer demand is one reason. Companies have no reason to hire if people aren’t buying their products, and recession-wracked Europe, our biggest consumer, isn’t consuming as much.

Yet there’s another reason for weak job creation that isn’t talked about as much. Automation, aided by new technologies, is increasingly replacing labor, changing workplaces and altering the economy in fundamental ways.

For evidence of this trend, just look around your house, your office (if you’re fortunate enough to have one) and the nearest shopping center.

o IPhones, iPads, and other devices are changing the way we shop, communicate and get news and information, disrupting old labor-intensive industries, such as newspapers and the U.S. Postal Service, while creating new ones that generally employ far fewer people.

o Online banking, brokerage and mortgages are increasingly making it easier for consumers to never set foot in a brick-and-mortar bank.

o Movie-downloading services such as Netflix and Redbox have hastened the demise of video stores.

o Self-checkout aisles at stores and gas stations have eliminated thousands of retail jobs.

Truck drivers’ jobs might soon be on the line too. Experiments with computer-driven vehicles have had vastly improved results in the past several years. In 2005, computer-driven cars could go only a few miles. Recently, Google-operated cars went thousands of miles without a mishap, and California Gov. Jerry Brown just signed a bill to allow them on the state’s highways.

As technology evolves at an ever-increasing rate, new jobs are created but not fast enough to replace the jobs that are disappearing. This is creating hardship for millions of Americans.

“At some point in the future — it might be many years or decades from now — machines will be able to do the jobs of a large percentage of the ‘average’ people in our population, and these people will not be able to find new jobs,” writes Martin Ford in his eye-opening book Lights in the Tunnel, which can be downloaded for free. This book details the challenges that we face and offers some possible solutions, including shorter work weeks, job sharing, and eliminating payroll taxes so employers have less incentive to replace workers.

David Autor, an economist at MIT, points out that the job market has been “hollowed out,” with the jobs in the middle — clerks, administrative positions, factory workers — disappearing. At the same time, high-wage jobs have been created in computer programming and biotech. Low-wage, automation-resistant jobs in such industries as food service and health care are doing just fine.

While government officials can and should worry about how to create more good-paying jobs, investors who have long suffered from a sideways stock market can profit by seeking out companies on the leading edge of the automation phenomenon.

Examples include Rockwell Automation, which makes industrial systems; Irobot, a maker of automated tools such as vacuum cleaners and floor washers; Aerovironoment, which manufactures unmanned aircraft and other vehicles, and NCR, a great example of an old-line firm that morphed from mechanical cash registers to ATMs and automated check-in systems.

Another approach to finding investment opportunities stemming from the automation trend is to look for stocks with high sales to employees. A recent survey by Bloomberg calls attention to some companies with high sales-to-employee ratios. Among them: Apple, eBay, Microsoft, Amgen and Google.

Every industrial revolution has been accompanied by new technology that underpins the innovations, and that is also fertile ground for investors seeking growth. Microchips, computer storage, optical drives, LCDs, fiber optics and nanotechnology are just a few of the innovations that are driving the new economy.

Green energy is another trend that’s here to stay. The list of these companies is long but worth investigating for investing ideas.

The good news is that the United States has enormous capacity to supply needed goods and services (with less labor than ever before, which means higher productivity). Jobs are being replaced, to be sure. However, every scenario that Ford envisions won’t necessarily come to pass. Innovators in the global and U.S. economies will doubtless find new ways to make money.

This could mean that today’s manufacturing jobs will be increasingly supplanted by more service jobs. For example, all of the new automation equipment will need servicing. One thing that seers of the high-tech future typically fail to envision is technology needs a lot of work to keep it running.

Whatever the future holds along these lines, investing in old-line firms that are labor intensive seems to be an increasingly bad bet. Such companies tend to be mature, which typically means low-growth potential and low investment returns. By focusing on high-revenue companies that harness automation, however, you’ll be looking to the future. And after all, investing is all about the future.

Yet it’s important to keep in mind that the future never unfolds as neatly as even the best seers predict — even when they’re basically right. The key is to keep abreast of economic developments to see new niches of investing opportunity developing as a result of the automation trend.

On a brighter economic note, this investment will spur general economic growth that, for all we now know, could ultimately produce new jobs in areas that now we can’t even conceive.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Ted Schwartz, a certified financial planner, is president and chief investment officer of Capstone Investment Financial Group. He advises individual investors and endowments, and serves as the adviser to CIFG UMA accounts. Because Schwartz has a background in psychology and counseling, he brings insights into personal motivation when advising clients on how to achieve their wealth management goals. Schwartz holds a B.A. from Duke University and an M.A. from Oregon State University. He can be reached at ted@capstoneinvest.com.

http://abcnews.go.com/Business/investment-opportunities-automated-economy/story?id=17760124

Automation can revitalize the U.S. workforce

In the face of growing workplace automation, a number of commentators have painted a grim future for American workers. But most human capital leaders see a much brighter future– one where automation helps revitalize U.S. manufacturing and increases the demand for skilled workers.

According to global talent management firm Randstad Sourceright’s survey of over 400 corporate HR leaders, automation and robotics are likely to have a positive impact on U.S. business growth in 2017, and will be one of the driving forces behind new hiring trends over the next several years. 

Regardless of how you feel about robots, the move toward automation and artificial intelligence cannot be stopped.  About 15 percent of global HR leaders say that robotics completely transformed their businesses in 2016, and more than double (31%) expect automation to have an even greater influence in 2017.     

Rather than feeling threatened by this new technology, nearly two-thirds (65%) of the HR leaders we spoke with said they see artificial intelligence and robotics having a positive impact on their businesses over the next three to five years.  Across all the major industry sectors surveyed, respondents were optimistic about technology’s ability to reduce costs, improve quality and increase output.

It is easy to assume that these productivity gains are made at the expense of workers.  In reality, this technology actually has increased demand for flexible, mobile workers with skills and agility that machines are not even close to matching.  While 26 percent of those surveyed said their businesses increased the use of automation and robotics in 2016, over 34 percent said they hired extensively over the same period just to keep up with company growth.

In fact, the HR leaders we surveyed indicated that a scarcity of skilled workers was driving employment demands in certain areas–like marketing, sales and IT/technical–where robotics will likely never displace the advantage of human intelligence.  Indeed, well over one-third of respondents anticipate hiring more workers in these areas over the next year.

But workers with the right combination of skills and experience are hard to come by.  Many workers are structuring their work hours in ways that allow them to work many different jobs, across several geographical locations.  As a result, more companies are rethinking their talent management to account for more short-term, offsite workers.  Of the HR leaders we surveyed, more than two-thirds (66%) said they are considering moving toward a talent management model that would more easily integrate contingent workers.  They see the shift toward flexible talent as a sound strategy that can help companies access a larger pool of talent, such as parents with young children and retirees who may not want a traditional 9-to-5 job. 

For some commentators, the investment in automation and contingent employees signals an upheaval in the economy that will not benefit American workers.  But that perspective may be short-sited. In fact, automation and robotics can make U.S. manufacturing more cost-competitive, while increasing the number of high-paying, skilled jobs available for humans.  Instead of 50 foreign workers being paid rock bottom wages to complete a job by hand, the same job will be accomplished by one skilled U.S. worker running a robot and earning a middle-class salary.  This combination of increased automation and a more mobile, contingent workforce can reduce manufacturing costs and make it easier for companies to build their factories in the U.S.  The end result is a better educated, higher paid American workforce.

Change can be difficult. We are witnessing a major shift in the way business does business.  But most HR leaders see technology as providing workers with new opportunities (and also with new priorities). These recent changes in workforce management need not be seen as the catastrophe some suggest.  If Randstad Sourceright’s 2017 Talent Trends Report is any indication, robots are far more likely to benefit American workers than replace them.  

Rebecca Henderson is the CEO of Randstad Sourceright, one of the world’s leading human resources providers.

http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2017/02/11/automation-can-revitalize-u-s-workforce.html

Automation can revitalize the U.S. workforce

In the face of growing workplace automation, a number of commentators have painted a grim future for American workers. But most human capital leaders see a much brighter future– one where automation helps revitalize U.S. manufacturing and increases the demand for skilled workers.

According to global talent management firm Randstad Sourceright’s survey of over 400 corporate HR leaders, automation and robotics are likely to have a positive impact on U.S. business growth in 2017, and will be one of the driving forces behind new hiring trends over the next several years. 

Regardless of how you feel about robots, the move toward automation and artificial intelligence cannot be stopped.  About 15 percent of global HR leaders say that robotics completely transformed their businesses in 2016, and more than double (31%) expect automation to have an even greater influence in 2017.     

Rather than feeling threatened by this new technology, nearly two-thirds (65%) of the HR leaders we spoke with said they see artificial intelligence and robotics having a positive impact on their businesses over the next three to five years.  Across all the major industry sectors surveyed, respondents were optimistic about technology’s ability to reduce costs, improve quality and increase output.

It is easy to assume that these productivity gains are made at the expense of workers.  In reality, this technology actually has increased demand for flexible, mobile workers with skills and agility that machines are not even close to matching.  While 26 percent of those surveyed said their businesses increased the use of automation and robotics in 2016, over 34 percent said they hired extensively over the same period just to keep up with company growth.

In fact, the HR leaders we surveyed indicated that a scarcity of skilled workers was driving employment demands in certain areas–like marketing, sales and IT/technical–where robotics will likely never displace the advantage of human intelligence.  Indeed, well over one-third of respondents anticipate hiring more workers in these areas over the next year.

But workers with the right combination of skills and experience are hard to come by.  Many workers are structuring their work hours in ways that allow them to work many different jobs, across several geographical locations.  As a result, more companies are rethinking their talent management to account for more short-term, offsite workers.  Of the HR leaders we surveyed, more than two-thirds (66%) said they are considering moving toward a talent management model that would more easily integrate contingent workers.  They see the shift toward flexible talent as a sound strategy that can help companies access a larger pool of talent, such as parents with young children and retirees who may not want a traditional 9-to-5 job. 

For some commentators, the investment in automation and contingent employees signals an upheaval in the economy that will not benefit American workers.  But that perspective may be short-sited. In fact, automation and robotics can make U.S. manufacturing more cost-competitive, while increasing the number of high-paying, skilled jobs available for humans.  Instead of 50 foreign workers being paid rock bottom wages to complete a job by hand, the same job will be accomplished by one skilled U.S. worker running a robot and earning a middle-class salary.  This combination of increased automation and a more mobile, contingent workforce can reduce manufacturing costs and make it easier for companies to build their factories in the U.S.  The end result is a better educated, higher paid American workforce.

Change can be difficult. We are witnessing a major shift in the way business does business.  But most HR leaders see technology as providing workers with new opportunities (and also with new priorities). These recent changes in workforce management need not be seen as the catastrophe some suggest.  If Randstad Sourceright’s 2017 Talent Trends Report is any indication, robots are far more likely to benefit American workers than replace them.  

Rebecca Henderson is the CEO of Randstad Sourceright, one of the world’s leading human resources providers.

http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2017/02/11/automation-can-revitalize-u-s-workforce.html

Automation can revitalize the U.S. workforce

In the face of growing workplace automation, a number of commentators have painted a grim future for American workers. But most human capital leaders see a much brighter future– one where automation helps revitalize U.S. manufacturing and increases the demand for skilled workers.

According to global talent management firm Randstad Sourceright’s survey of over 400 corporate HR leaders, automation and robotics are likely to have a positive impact on U.S. business growth in 2017, and will be one of the driving forces behind new hiring trends over the next several years. 

Regardless of how you feel about robots, the move toward automation and artificial intelligence cannot be stopped.  About 15 percent of global HR leaders say that robotics completely transformed their businesses in 2016, and more than double (31%) expect automation to have an even greater influence in 2017.     

Rather than feeling threatened by this new technology, nearly two-thirds (65%) of the HR leaders we spoke with said they see artificial intelligence and robotics having a positive impact on their businesses over the next three to five years.  Across all the major industry sectors surveyed, respondents were optimistic about technology’s ability to reduce costs, improve quality and increase output.

It is easy to assume that these productivity gains are made at the expense of workers.  In reality, this technology actually has increased demand for flexible, mobile workers with skills and agility that machines are not even close to matching.  While 26 percent of those surveyed said their businesses increased the use of automation and robotics in 2016, over 34 percent said they hired extensively over the same period just to keep up with company growth.

In fact, the HR leaders we surveyed indicated that a scarcity of skilled workers was driving employment demands in certain areas–like marketing, sales and IT/technical–where robotics will likely never displace the advantage of human intelligence.  Indeed, well over one-third of respondents anticipate hiring more workers in these areas over the next year.

But workers with the right combination of skills and experience are hard to come by.  Many workers are structuring their work hours in ways that allow them to work many different jobs, across several geographical locations.  As a result, more companies are rethinking their talent management to account for more short-term, offsite workers.  Of the HR leaders we surveyed, more than two-thirds (66%) said they are considering moving toward a talent management model that would more easily integrate contingent workers.  They see the shift toward flexible talent as a sound strategy that can help companies access a larger pool of talent, such as parents with young children and retirees who may not want a traditional 9-to-5 job. 

For some commentators, the investment in automation and contingent employees signals an upheaval in the economy that will not benefit American workers.  But that perspective may be short-sited. In fact, automation and robotics can make U.S. manufacturing more cost-competitive, while increasing the number of high-paying, skilled jobs available for humans.  Instead of 50 foreign workers being paid rock bottom wages to complete a job by hand, the same job will be accomplished by one skilled U.S. worker running a robot and earning a middle-class salary.  This combination of increased automation and a more mobile, contingent workforce can reduce manufacturing costs and make it easier for companies to build their factories in the U.S.  The end result is a better educated, higher paid American workforce.

Change can be difficult. We are witnessing a major shift in the way business does business.  But most HR leaders see technology as providing workers with new opportunities (and also with new priorities). These recent changes in workforce management need not be seen as the catastrophe some suggest.  If Randstad Sourceright’s 2017 Talent Trends Report is any indication, robots are far more likely to benefit American workers than replace them.  

Rebecca Henderson is the CEO of Randstad Sourceright, one of the world’s leading human resources providers.

http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2017/02/11/automation-can-revitalize-u-s-workforce.html

America’s 10 greatest factory tours

Who says America doesn’t make stuff anymore? From cars to coffee, hot sauce to jumbo jets, we’ve got ten great places to see how the proverbial sausage is made.

Ford Rouge Factory, Dearborn, MI

One of the most important sites in the history of the automobile, this city unto itself just ten minutes from downtown Detroit is where you’ll now find the F-150 pickup truck in production. Besides the chance to see the action on the factory floor below you, visitors are also given a crash course (through the magic of multimedia) in the history of the site, the Ford Motor Company and the industry at large. (Also check out the top of the building, the world’s largest green roof, at 10.4 acres.) All tours begin at the nearby Henry Ford museum complex, a destination unto itself.

Nearest airport: Detroit. Click here to see cheap flights.

Martin Guitar, Nazareth, PA

The choice of sensitive rockers everywhere was around long before rock ‘n’ roll was invented. Martin’s history of manufacturing some of the world’s greatest acoustic guitars begins back in the 1700s, when Christian Frederick Martin, Sr. left his German home at age 15 to apprentice with a Viennese guitar maker. Martin has been a presence in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley since 1833; one-hour tours of the plant are complimented by an on-site museum and a Pickin’ Parlor, where visitors are welcome to play high-end and limited edition models.

Nearest Airport: Allentown, PA. Click here to see cheap flights.

Intelligentsia Coffee, Chicago, IL

One of the most popular roasters in the country – now served in some of the most popular cafes and restaurants in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles – offers its fans (or just the merely curious) this easy-going and fun tour at their main roasting facility in the Windy City. You’ll learn the most correct, scientific methods for the perfect cup of coffee, find out how they go about finding the very best beans in countries you forgot existed, how to roast them correctly and – most importantly – you’ll get all the freshly-brewed coffee you can drink.

Nearest airport: Chicago. Click here for cheap flights.

Boeing, Everett, WA

Go inside the world’s largest building by volume – 472,000,000 cubic feet – for the chance to glimpse Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner in production, then head to the Future of Flight Aviation Center and get strapped into The Innovator, a seven-seat simulator that puts you in the cockpit for the ride of your life. Tip: The weak-stomached may want to sit this one out.

Nearest airport: Seattle. Click here for cheap flights.

Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, Louisville, KY

You’ve seen them in the hands of countless baseball greats, here’s your chance to get right on the factory floor and see how the official bat of Major League Baseball is made. Each tour participant gets a mini-Slugger to take home as a souvenir; afterwards, stick around for the museum, a fun and informative look at the history of America’s best-known bat.

Harley-Davidson, Menomonee Falls, WI

It may not be the sexiest bit of the hog, but you can’t have a Harley without a proper powertrain, right? Visitors are welcomed in to observe operations at the 849,000 square-foot plant northwest of downtown Milwaukee, but that’s just one stop on the grand tour here in the hometown of the Harley. Make sure to pay a visit to the company’s fun and interactive downtown museum; also consider checking into the handsome, museum-adjacent Iron Horse Hotel, which has been the coolest place to stay in town ever since it opened a few years back.

Dogfish Head, Milton, DE

What was once a small Delaware brewery has grown to become one of the best on the East Coast. At heart, though, Dogfish Head is still the fun-loving little guy it was when it started out, so tours are casual and cool, samples are (but of course) offered. Make sure to check out the curious, on-premises Steampunk Treehouse, rescued from a recent Burning Man festival; this rather curious piece of functional sculpture is where the brewers are said to do their most creative thinking. If you didn’t get enough to drink on the tour, check out their popular brewpub and restaurant in nearby Rehoboth Beach.

Tabasco Factory, Avery Island, LA

That familiar smell fills the air as you drive on to 2,200-acre Avery Island; there’s no mistaking that you’ve arrived in the home of America’s favorite hot sauce. (Tip: A visit is highly recommended for those with blocked sinuses.) But a tour through Tabasco’s factory operation is just part of the experience here; the company-owned Jungle Gardens and Bird City – a beautiful, company-owned botanical garden and bird sanctuary, respectively – make a visit to the island a fun day out from either New Orleans or Cajun Country.

Mack Trucks, Macungie, PA

Are you an admirer of the mighty Mack? Put on your comfortable shoes and embark on a 1.5 mile walking tour of the famed truck’s mighty manufacturing plant.(At this location, you’ll see mostly construction vehicles being produced). Visitors to the site are also invited to visit the Mack Museum, featuring a wide range of vintage vehicles dating from the early 1900s up to 1979.

Airstream Factory, Jackson Center, OH

A tiny town set amid the central Ohio farmfields is the setting for the factory that produces those iconic silver travel trailers. It’s a pilgrimage site for owners, who bring their houses on wheels here to be serviced, camping out at the on-site RV park. Whether you’re curious about joining this elite group of nomads or not, the free, daily factory tour is good fun, even if just to see one of the country’s most stubbornly unchanged companies in action.

George Hobica is a syndicated travel journalist and founder of the low-airfare listing site Airfarewatchdog.com.

George Hobica is a syndicated travel journalist and founder of the low-airfare listing site Airfarewatchdog.com.

http://www.foxnews.com/travel/2012/06/01/america-10-greatest-factory-tours.html

J&J, Alphabet aim for smarter, smaller, cheaper surgical robot | Reuters

Johnson & Johnson and Alphabet Inc’s life sciences unit have formed an independent company to create far smaller, smarter and less costly robotic-assisted systems for surgery than those sold now by other companies, J&J said on Thursday.

Creation of the new company, Verb Surgical Inc, follows an announcement in March by J&J and Google Inc of their plans to pool their technologies and expertise to create robotics for the operating room. Google has since changed its name to Alphabet, and its life sciences unit is now called Verily.

J&J’s Ethicon division, world leader in equipment for general surgery, designed a basic prototype of the robot last year and expects it to be a “disruptive” alternative to existing products, Gary Pruden, global chairman of J&J’s medical devices group, said in an interview.

Current robotic systems, including those sold by market leader Intuitive Surgical Inc, are the size of a compact car and require the surgeon to sit at a control panel about 10 feet from the patient, Pruden said.

Verb’s robot will be about 20 percent the size, allow the surgeon to work closer to the patient and likely be considerably less expensive than current systems, which can cost $2 million or more, he said.

And while robots today are used largely to remove cancerous prostate glands and in gynecological surgery, Verb’s system would be designed for wider use, including thoracic surgery, colorectal surgery and bariatric weight loss procedures, J&J said.

It would come loaded with technologies from Alphabet, including “machine learning,” in which the robot could analyze a video library of images from hundreds of previous surgeries in order to instruct the surgeon where to cut.

Pruden said further development of Verb’s robot will take a few more years.

“Our goal is to have a lower-cost product, with the smallest footprint, with greater capability, that helps to raise the standard of care,” Pruden said. “That would be a market disruption.”

Scott Huennekens, former chief executive of medical imaging company Volcano Corp, has been named CEO of Verb, which will be headquartered in Mountain View, California.

Verily already has several projects in the works, including the development of a smart contact lens in partnership with Swiss drugmaker Novartis that has an embedded glucose sensor. It would allow diabetics to monitor themselves continuously by measuring the blood sugar in their tears.

(Reporting by Ransdell Pierson; Editing by Leslie Adler)

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-alphabet-johnson-johnson-robots-idUSKBN0TT1SB20151210

The Big Three: Automation, Nationalism, Social Expectations

As we close out a turbulent 2016 and look to 2107, what do horizon scanners see in the years ahead?

As part of a horizon scan for the Milken Institute, we asked a diverse group of forecasters, futurists, corporate strategists and business leaders to identify emerging trends impacting corporate leaders over the next 5 years.

Released today at the Milken Institute London Summit, these horizon scanners identified 3 BIG, emerging trends:

1. Automation (and income inequality)

2. Globalism vs. Nationalism

3. Meeting Shifting Social Expectations

For a quick look, a summarizing infographic can be found here.

Economists have been studying so-called “technological unemployment” for a very long time. And automation has been in the news. But, these horizon scanners are concerned that the rate of automation will create social shockwaves. Nationalist-Populist leaders across the globe have been blaming foreign workers, unfair trade deals and big businesses for wage stagnation. It is much harder to blame automation – robots and algorithms. Interestingly, many of these horizon scanners believe that automation will reduce globalization. With wage rates a much lower cost of production, manufacturing may be relocalized – reducing global trade flows. How will corporate leaders navigate this emerging trend and communicate on it?

Tied closely to this is the rising tension between populist-nationalism and globalization. If globalization is the free(er) global flow of ideas, goods, money and people, then 21st century nationalism appears skeptically bracing against at least three of four. This presents distinct challenges for multi-national corporations and those running global business lines with production, distribution and sales across many countries.

The third large trend is the struggle for leaders to meet evolving social norms around corporate responsibility, resource use, accountability, transparency and board diversity.

The top ten trends are also instructive:

1. Income Inequality

2. Resurgent Nationalism

3. Automation

4. Rise of Global Middle Class

5. Artificial Intelligence

6. Social Unrest

7. Internet of Things

8. Consumer Power

9. Resource Scarcity

10. Aging

21st Century leaders will need deep wisdom and flexibility to navigate these ten trends.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-moran/the-big-three-automation_b_13465154.html

Tiny Robots Use Gecko Power To Carry Heavy Weights

A pair of Stanford University PhD students at the school’s Biomimetics and Dexterous Manipulation Lab have developed what they call MicroTugs, or mini bots that use adhesive power similar to what’s found on the feet of geckos and ants to pull off incredible feats of strength.

One robot weighing less than a third of an ounce can carry a 2.2-pound weight vertically up a glass wall.

Another robot weighs less than half an ounce, but can drag 2,000 times its own weight on a flat surface.

“This is the equivalent of a human adult dragging a blue whale around on land,” the researchers note.

What’s even more amazing is that the tests are actually bound by the limits of the actuators in the robots, not the adhesive power of the feet. That, the research team said in the video description, should allow them to pull almost twice as much — or the equivalent of a human dragging two blue whales.

The tiny bots contain a battery, a winch, a processor, a motor, wheels and an adhesive layer on the belly. The adhesive layer contains small rubber spikes similar to the “setae” that cover the toes of geckos, NBC News reports.

As the video above explains, the adhesive layer doesn’t stick unless the bot is pulling a load with its winch. When it does, the wheels lift and the belly lowers to stick to the surface. Once an object has been pulled, the adhesive belly lifts and the wheels come back down, allowing the robot to move freely again.

Eventually, the technology could be used on larger robots to carry heavy items around a construction site or in emergencies, such as bringing a rope ladder to someone trapped in a tall burning building, according to New Scientist.

The MicroTugs will be the subject of a presentation at next month’s International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Seattle. The authors have also published two papers on their developments, which can be found here and here.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/27/gecko-power-robots_n_7157692.html

Automation can revitalize the U.S. workforce

In the face of growing workplace automation, a number of commentators have painted a grim future for American workers. But most human capital leaders see a much brighter future– one where automation helps revitalize U.S. manufacturing and increases the demand for skilled workers.

According to global talent management firm Randstad Sourceright’s survey of over 400 corporate HR leaders, automation and robotics are likely to have a positive impact on U.S. business growth in 2017, and will be one of the driving forces behind new hiring trends over the next several years. 

Regardless of how you feel about robots, the move toward automation and artificial intelligence cannot be stopped.  About 15 percent of global HR leaders say that robotics completely transformed their businesses in 2016, and more than double (31%) expect automation to have an even greater influence in 2017.     

Rather than feeling threatened by this new technology, nearly two-thirds (65%) of the HR leaders we spoke with said they see artificial intelligence and robotics having a positive impact on their businesses over the next three to five years.  Across all the major industry sectors surveyed, respondents were optimistic about technology’s ability to reduce costs, improve quality and increase output.

It is easy to assume that these productivity gains are made at the expense of workers.  In reality, this technology actually has increased demand for flexible, mobile workers with skills and agility that machines are not even close to matching.  While 26 percent of those surveyed said their businesses increased the use of automation and robotics in 2016, over 34 percent said they hired extensively over the same period just to keep up with company growth.

In fact, the HR leaders we surveyed indicated that a scarcity of skilled workers was driving employment demands in certain areas–like marketing, sales and IT/technical–where robotics will likely never displace the advantage of human intelligence.  Indeed, well over one-third of respondents anticipate hiring more workers in these areas over the next year.

But workers with the right combination of skills and experience are hard to come by.  Many workers are structuring their work hours in ways that allow them to work many different jobs, across several geographical locations.  As a result, more companies are rethinking their talent management to account for more short-term, offsite workers.  Of the HR leaders we surveyed, more than two-thirds (66%) said they are considering moving toward a talent management model that would more easily integrate contingent workers.  They see the shift toward flexible talent as a sound strategy that can help companies access a larger pool of talent, such as parents with young children and retirees who may not want a traditional 9-to-5 job. 

For some commentators, the investment in automation and contingent employees signals an upheaval in the economy that will not benefit American workers.  But that perspective may be short-sited. In fact, automation and robotics can make U.S. manufacturing more cost-competitive, while increasing the number of high-paying, skilled jobs available for humans.  Instead of 50 foreign workers being paid rock bottom wages to complete a job by hand, the same job will be accomplished by one skilled U.S. worker running a robot and earning a middle-class salary.  This combination of increased automation and a more mobile, contingent workforce can reduce manufacturing costs and make it easier for companies to build their factories in the U.S.  The end result is a better educated, higher paid American workforce.

Change can be difficult. We are witnessing a major shift in the way business does business.  But most HR leaders see technology as providing workers with new opportunities (and also with new priorities). These recent changes in workforce management need not be seen as the catastrophe some suggest.  If Randstad Sourceright’s 2017 Talent Trends Report is any indication, robots are far more likely to benefit American workers than replace them.  

Rebecca Henderson is the CEO of Randstad Sourceright, one of the world’s leading human resources providers.

http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2017/02/11/automation-can-revitalize-u-s-workforce.html

China November industry profits grow well, but chance to sustain gains clouded | Reuters

BEIJING China’s industrial sector showed the strongest profit growth in three months in November, suggesting the world’s second-largest economy was improving, though policymakers noted gains were too dependent on rebounding prices for oil products, iron and steel.

Industrial profits have had a solid rebound this year after falling last year, boosted by a recovery in commodity prices as supply tightened due to a capacity reduction drive and an infrastructure boom.

Profits in November rose 14.5 percent to 774.6 billion yuan ($111 billion) from a year ago, the highest since August’s record 19.5 percent spike, National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said on Tuesday. Profits in October rose 9.8 percent.

Industrial profits rose 9.4 percent in the first 11 months from a year earlier, up from 8.6 percent in January-October.

“Industrial profits rose relatively fast due to a lower base last year, and the growth was overly reliant on a price rebound in raw material industries such as oil refining, and iron and steel,” He Ping, an NBS official, said in a note accompanying the data.

Profits in manufacturing rose 13.7 percent for January-November from a year earlier, while those for the ferrous metal processing industry as well as oil and nuclear fuel refining more than tripled.

BROADER CRACKDOWN?

Producer prices rose at the fastest pace in more than five years in November as prices of coal, steel and other building materials soared, boosting industrial profits and giving firms more cash to pay off mountains of debt.

But analysts say recent signals from China’s top leaders that more will be done in 2017 to crack down on asset bubbles is putting pressures on raw material prices, casting doubts over the sustainability of such a price rebound.

“The question is whether price rises in recent months resulted from a genuine improvement in demand, or financial speculation,” said Zhou Hao, senior economist at Commerzbank.

“From what we are seeing, the leadership apparently thinks it’s the latter.”

Zhou said the government “might introduce new policy measures to curb raw material price growth.”

Chinese steel futures fell sharply on Monday to the lowest level in over a month, as traders took cues from market talk that Beijing may tolerate slower economic growth amid rising debt and an uncertain global environment.

STABLE GROWTH

Tuesday’s data covers large enterprises with annual revenue of more than 20 million yuan from their main operations.

China’s growth has stabilized this year, with 6.7 percent expansion in gross domestic product in the first three quarters. But corporate debt continues to rise, increasing risks as China looks to push ahead structural reforms.

Firms are seeing more payments being delayed, as accounts receivable at the end of November rose 9 percent from a year earlier. That increase was biggest than the rise in revenue from main operations.

“The difficulty in making repayments is still a relatively large hurdle that limits the production and operation of firms,” NBS’s He noted.

Tuesday’s data also showed Chinese industrial firms’ liabilities at the end of November were 5.6 percent higher than at the same point last year, despite rising at a slower pace than assets have.

China’s industrial output should grow around 6 percent in 2017, like this year, a state-run newspaper quoted industry minister Miao Wei as saying on Monday.

(Reporting by Beijing Monitoring Desk and Yawen Chen; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Richard Borsuk)

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