Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Part I - Computers, Robotics, Automation and Disasters are on a collision course

86 Seconds.

The level of assembly and automation used in the Ford Motor Company Cologne factory, shown in the video at the bottom of this article does not surprise me. Nor does the path how we got to this point. Many have ignored the why and how manufacturing  of consumer products and goods have got to this level. To be ignorant of creators and innovation and why our world has developed this path should not be taken lightly or for granted. Are we to be saved by the robotic arm and computers in the future? Can a robot replace humans when a disaster strikes? Will a satellite detect and prepare an army of humanoid appearing drones to repair damage to your home after a hurricane strikes?

The video is an impressive demonstration why science matters and in the use of mathematics, applied to complex geometric constrained found during assembly of complex parts, that are programmed and managed by computers. The level of repeatable accuracy using robots cannot be debated and should not come as a surprise. They are routinely accurate to within 0.000001". Some Computer Numeric Controlled machining centers are capable of creating components with nanometre precision.

The computers and robotic machines in use today are designed by some of the best mechanical, electrical and chemical engineers in the world. The software used to develop, design and create the factory floor from raw materials to car in your driveway has transformed how thousands of products are created and built. And yet, many are shocked and fear the technology and the implementation of robots and the use of computer based technologies. Many believe it is only a recent development and should be stopped. To halt progress would require our world to go back over 50 plus years in our evolutionary time scale. To put this genie back in the bottle is impossible.

The first generation of this technology was first implemented on a large scale beginning in the mid 1960's for very basic X and Y dimension limited manufacturing requirements after its development by General Motors in 1959 at its die casting plant in Trenton New Jersey. George Devol invented the Unimate 1900 series robotic arm with over 450 built and is considered the pioneer in the use of artificial limbs to replace humans that were placed in dangerous work environments like stamping plants that formed steel body panels under immense loads. It's adoption was quickly implemented in Japan, migrating to Germany and the U.S. by 1971 through 1979 and soon began crossed manufacturing domains, spreading and being used around the world in every industry and specialty vertical.

Education focused on STEM - Sciences, Technology, Engineering and Math disciplines is critical to the successful implementation of these production solutions. Nations are racing to be the best in each of these domains; computer numeric control (CNC), computer assisted / aided design (CAD), computer assisted modeling (CAM). Early adopters were to change our world forever. The development of these products could not be stopped anymore than water evaporating when the sun is brightly shining.

The advent of a rich computer based graphical user interface developed by Xerox in 1974 was soon leveraged by IBM, Microsoft and Apple. It would take a mere 5 years before Steve Jobs and Bill Gates would turn the world on its head. In the early 1970's, a car manufacturer would require 5,000 engineers to design, develop, test and prepare an assembly line to be ready for a new car model. No longer was the computer to be limited to calculating spreadsheets and financial numbers using a IBM mainframe developed in 1952 some 22 years earlier.

Some of the most successful computer assisted design engineers were early graduates and visionaries because they were exposed to the personal computer that became widely popular with the release of the Intel 8086 microprocessor chip in 1978 and Motorola 68000 in 1979. Those that bought these early systems saw the future potential for computer controlled processing of more than just mathematical equations, but fully managed development processes for every conceivable application including manufacturing. These whiz kids began to graduate from universities around the world in the mid 1980's and were the first generation to be computer literate and push the boundaries of what a microprocessor was capable of.

It is where the majority of sustainable jobs over the next 20 years will originate worldwide. The demand for STEM graduates is skyrocketing at multinationals and in your local hometown USA small job shop business. This has largely been proven true with the growth of Silicon Valley just outside of San Francisco between 1982 and 2005.

Crowdsource engineering is also becoming more prevalent that enables specialty engineers and STEM graduates to collaborate on building new products. Individuals are not long constrained to be employed by a large enterprise corporation.

The next logical and likely level of innovation will be community and regional manufacturing plants that are capable of being used for by any collaborative remote based developer team. These plants will house raw materials and universal component assemblies that can serve multiple types of products, which can then be placed onto a shared production assembly line and be tracked by QR barcode from component and parts to finished product ready for local shipping and delivery.

Access to industrial quality 3D Laser Printers, 3/4/5/6 Axis CNC machining centers along with automated pallet sub-assembly construction systems and interconnected assembly lines and shared resource computing power is not in the far distant future. We've already seen the size and scale of large robot controlled plant floor logistics management used in manufacturing plants and consumer goods warehouses which solves the final hurdle in the supply chain cycle.

It's not a question of if it is possible, but when it will become available directly to small groups or directly to the consumer. Over the next 20 years, you will likely see the first 'brands' make the leap. They will change how products are developed and sold from the current model of design, develop, test, contract, market, produce, dealer and finally the consumer to something like this;

- Modules (size of product and capacity)
- Format (requirements for above)
- Options (features and built-in apps or services)
- Personal preferences (colors and fabrics)
- Production (plant)
- Direct delivery (consumer)

The warehousing model could eventually be eliminated and direct to home logistics will be implemented using automated platforms including driverless trucks, trains and ships. Some products will be available in their modular sub-assembly configurations to complete the assembly yourself for the DIY market that is already beginning to flourish.

There is the distinct possibility that when combined with the online shopping experience many are already transitioning too, the retail floor space domain will likely disappear for many consumer products and goods by 2030.

Our world is experiencing an industrial revolution that will have consequences and influence human social behavior that many are not be prepared for. Which is a lesson we have failed to learn during the second industrial revolution. Humans have been able to develop and assemble cars at rates of less than a minute since the late 1960's. But 55 years ago, it required a plant to be over 2 million square feet, warehouse millions of dollars in parts and require over 25,000 people to work on the shop floor and manage the facility. Today, that number is less than 1,500 - 2,000 and is half the plant size of its predecessor. Some multi-national owned manufacturing plants are currently expanding in physical size to reduce the number of sub-assembly plants used in some regions of the world. As more and more robotic automation is implemented onto the shop floor, it makes less and less sense to have distant based sub-assembly facilities because the need or requirement for specialized manufacturing techniques is reduced.

It is likely we will continue to see a blend of complete end to end manufacturing at some large manufacturers while others focus on being a 'flex' plant, capable of producing multiple types of sub or complete assemblies ready for delivery. In either scenario, the number of people required in these facilities is beginning to shrink and migrate away from the shop floor to the head office design and development laboratories or in some cases, the employees residence based  home office. 

This is the backdrop to what lies in store for many countries. Shop floor jobs are disappearing and with it, the level of education needed to supervise their operation. Even these jobs are in jeopardy as as robots begin to take care of basic warehouse and robotic arm service and maintenance functions. 

This raises some fundamental organization and agency policy questions how society prepares response options to natural, environmental and pandemic disasters. How do we plan for the future events. Many aspects of disaster response have already undergone major technological change and procedural process change as a consequence. How far into the future do we anticipate robotic disaster response? Don't look now, but robots have already been deployed to some of the biggest disasters in recent history. Their use is likely to expand. In the future, they may be capable of responding in as little as 86 seconds.

Ford Motor Company Fiesta Car plant in Cologne Germany. Video Source: Ford Motor Company on YouTube.

For now, sit back and watch the video. In part II, we will dive into how computers, robots and software are changing how we deal with disasters today and what is potentially possible in the near future. Today their accurate interpretation and analysis of a the destructive power of a hurricane is still (relatively) crude. In the future, their precision may rival that of CNC machining centers. I'm not sure emergency management agencies are ready for what is in store.

Atlas Robot built by Boston Dynamics. Image Source; Wikipedia

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Who are you taking care of during an emergency response?

Who do you want to be when you need help, but are hiding in the shadows?

If you don’t have an identity, who are you and how can you be helped? There are millions living in the shadows - displaced, abused, exploited, and enslaved. Here’s how we’re beginning to provide them with light, hope, and protection. Dr. Rasmussen is a medical doctor and the CEO for Infinitum Humanitarian Systems (IHS), a multinational consulting group built on a profit-for-purpose model. He is an internal medicine physician with both undergraduate and medical degrees from Stanford University and a European Master’s degree in disaster medicine from the UN World Health Organization’s affiliate CEMEC (Centre European pour la Medecin des Catastrophes) in Italy. In addition, Eric is a member of the core faculty at Singularity University within the NASA Ames Research Center, teaching in both the Exponential Medicine and Global Grand Challenges tracks. He also serves pro bono as medical director for two biotech startups, and as Permanent Advisor to the UN Secretary-General’s High Level Expert Panel on Water Disasters. He has been a member of the US National Academy of Science’s Committee on Grand Challenges in Global Development since 2012. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community.

Source: Tedx Talks

Out of the Shadows

In case of an emergency, what should you keep in your car?

The Victorinox series Swiss Army knife shown above is the only thing you need in your glovebox. There, end of answer. Finito ! It’s not even a cheap imitation, but the real thing made in Switzerland. This model cost $185.00 - and I’d never rely upon it - ever. It’s superbly made, yet entirely impractical in the real world. And no, it’s not in my car’s glove box…. more on that later.
Today’s cars have glove boxes are often useless for use to store items except your owners manual and insurance papers. Others have Titanic size center consoles. These caverns can be filled with enough junk to survive for 48 hours in a snowstorm.
This isn’t going to do it either. Might stop minor bleeding from a superficial cut or wound, it barely has the right products to disinfect an minor exposed injury. For roadside use, I’ve replaced just about every item that was included in this kit’s original form. See below for more information. The supplies are changed out every two years and donated to the local Red Cross, St. John’s unit or Salvation Army facility.
Honestly, there’s no proper answer to this question because each kind of emergency that could occur is different. I would pack very differently for a long trip through Arizona and New Mexico’s desert highways than I would in the middle of the worse snowstorm roaring through the mid-west. One small example, pack a sleeping bag for each occupant in the vehicle.
If you are attempting to prepare, common sense rules the day and the glovebox has absolutely nothing to do with what you should take with you on a trip across the city or across 3 states.
Here’s the process works when I think of roadtrip preparedness;
  1. Condition of vehicle (mileage, health of mechanical components, maintenance completed or overdue). A vehicle with 200,000 miles on it and rarely serviced is just asking for trouble. And the driver knows it. A brand new car is not invulnerable to breakdown, but it does influence preparedness decisions. Age of a car doesn’t matter if you’ve been involved in a collision in the middle of winter.
  2. Trip requirements (city, highway for short and long distances)
  3. Planned route and time of day (minor or major road, congestion, etc)
  4. How many passengers and any special needs or concerns
  5. Weather conditions (dawn,day, dusk, night)
Knowing the answers to these questions helps determine what gaps or improper equipment is stored in case of emergency.
Asking yourself what you would need in case of an emergency (ICE) is an important planning task. Taking drinking water during a heatwave across New Mexico is a wise extra to have and something you should not leave it in the car for extended periods. Extra blankets during the winter or believe it or not, light blankets for overnight trips across the desert are useful should you breakdown.
This synthetic poly blanket can help main your body heat if you are stranded by side the road in a severe winter storm. Even so, it will not prevent prolonged sub zero temperatures that allowing hypothermia to set in. Very useful size for the elderly or those with low blood pressure and easily feel the cold.
The little things that can commonly be long term stored in a car are available in kits and in general terms, useful regardless of weather, season or road conditions. They generally include items that are not capable of being fit into most gloveboxes. They should include;
  • Basic, but high quality First Aid kit that is serviced annually. Sized for the number of occupants the vehicle can carry.
  • Battery jumper cables
This one cubic square foot kit includes battery jumper cables that are ten feet long and are equipped with heavy gauge wire to withstand severe weather. They cost 4 times as much as cheaper and often shorter cables. If you are off the side of the road, the longer the cables are, the safer it will be to jump start your vehicle that may have a battery on the opposite side of yours (right instead of left, front instead of rear, etc.). The red colored small first aid kit shown in the right side pouch is not well equipped, with nothing more than some sterilizing pads, light gauze, some band-aids and does not include a tension bandage. It would never pass as part of any certified first aid kit.
  • Flashlight
Flashlights come in all sorts of sizes and lumen per square foot lighting performance. You get what you pay for. LED models are now becoming available. In general terms the batteries may last longer and reduce static battery drain when not in use. Having one with a magnetic base can be handy if required to light up the engine bay on the side of the road at night. Change the batteries every year. You’ll regret it if do not. Murphy’s law will strike.
  • Matches and butane cigar lighter
Worth their weight in gold, the matches are waterproof.
  • Scissors / Box Cutters
  • 1 quart (liter) of oil for engine and 1 pint (350 ml) of power steering fluid and 1 gallon (4 L) of windshield washer fluid.
  • Nylon reinforced Tow strap 20′ long and rated for 10 tonnes.
  • Reflective Road side Triangle
The reflective triangle warns approaching cars and trucks that you maybe blocking the road. Use on the highway, make sure you place it at least 200′ behind where you have broken down. This kit includes a collapsible shovel.
  • Heat blanket (can also be used to reflect heat) and head gear during winter. (60 to 70% of your body heat loss, occurs from your head and upper neck) Your groin area is the second most vulnerable to heat loss followed by your underarms and chest.
I then add the following items
  • Spare batteries (checked for expiry date and replaced anyway with fresh ones every year). Do not use rechargable batteries as they do not hold a static charge for more than a month or two.
The large battery pack is capable of charging your cell phone at least twice before it is drained. Course, it’s only good if you keep it charged and in your car. Based on research I have done, almost nobody carries one in the car that is ready to go. This particular one stores 6,000 mAh of power. They must be maintained and hooked up to a charging unit daily for maximum life.
  • Aspirin and Tylenol (some people have reactions to one or the other)
  • Small tool set applicable to my type of car (Imperial or Metric)
You do not need to bring a master mechanics tool set worth tens of thousands of dollars with you. But a small compact and easy to store basic toolset is a great safety item to have with you - even if you’re not mechanically inclined. Someone that stops to help you might be…
Other items you could include;
  • Plastic backed mirror & large magnifying glass
  • Spare clean rags (2) or clothes. (no, not tissue paper…though you can have those as additional supplies)
  • Hand cranked self powering radio
This is an AM - FM radio, battery and charger for that generates power by you turning a hand crank on the back side. You’ll get a workout! 10 minutes of cranking will allow the built in radio to operate for about 20 minutes. This particular model is an older model that cannot connect to USB enabled devices and is discontinued.
  • Snacks that are rotated monthly
I’m often asked, should you buy a kit or can you make your own. If you are comfortable in your understanding of First Aid and Safety items, by all means, make your own kit or thoroughly research which ones are available on the market. Quality is a critical consideration when it comes to potentially saving your life or helping others in need.
You get what you pay is absolutely true when buying roadside assistance kits or those that come with some new model cars. I’ve seen hundreds of kits and come up with my own requirements depending on where and and when I’m going to travel on highways or off-road. Some of my options are for extreme and not required for many motorists.
When I deploy as a volunteer search and rescue member in the backwoods, I bring with me a kit that is easy to wear and has most of the items required to make sure I am self sufficient in case I too become lost or disoriented. I carry enough supplies to assist anyone with minor injuries. Even with Level 3 Industrial First Aid training, the type of supplies I carry are not sufficient to handle all scenarios. Like a glove box, there are always going to be limitations. One of the pouches on this vest is where my Swiss Army knife is stored. It’s been used once during a deployment to Haiti to cut 1″ thick nylon rope.
The water and energy bars must be regularly inspected and replaced. The water packs are certified for 5 years and the energy bars for 2 years. I’ve included in my kit, protective eye glasses (upper left), glow sticks (center), light duty air mask (middle left), up to 5 plastic panchos, and blankets, two sets of work gloves and some small tools. The entire kit fits over your protective clothing and weighs 15 lbs fully loaded. It also has belt space for radios (if equipped), flashlight, walking stick, shovel, etc. If I’m heading out to the desert, this is the kit I’ll bring with me. If I’m heading out to the backwoods in winter, the gear is changed out for and / or reduced as required. For example, more matches and instant fire kindling is brought with a collapsible water proof pot and stove to make water instead of bringing it with me (since it will freeze anyway).
During the summer, I’ll throw this kit in the back of my car and leave it there, out of the sunlight on the floor. This kit has been used three times since 2006 to give aid during an road side accident. I’ve worn it about 40 times during volunteer searches for lost pets and people and only had to dispense water on two occasions. Medical supplies are rotated out every two years weather I like it or not to make sure my kit is up to date and ensure all items that may be subject to a recall notice are removed.
By law in most countries, the use of your mobile phone to call the police is free of charge - even if your phone is not currently connected to a mobile provider. If there is signal showing on your phone, calling for assistance maybe possible (i.e. 911, 999, etc.) - assuming your phone is has sufficient battery power.
It should be noted that many of these items would be absolutely useless to a motorist if they do not know how to used them. I strongly recommend everyone to take a basic first aid course that are available from your local Red Cross or St. John’s organization.
It is also a good idea to take a basic road safety course in your area that are often available from your local National Auto Club Association office. I also strongly recommend everyone learn and practice how to safely replace a tire in an emergency if a spare tire is included with your car. The course will help the motorist learn when to proceed and not replace a tire on the side of the road and what weather conditions should be avoided. Just because you belong to a road side assistance club, doesn’t mean help may be available immediately.
If your commute is in a big city with no serious threats from natural disasters and you never head out on the highway, the need for even a flashlight is going to be remote. Most motorists simply call a tow truck and off they go in a few hours to get their broken down vehicle repaired. Yet, we have seen drivers and passengers in big cities suddenly get hit with a massive snow storm and die from being stuck in their cars and freeze to death. They keep running their engine’s heater until they run out of fuel and then die. A charged mobile phone and sleeping bag would have saved their lives.
One of the worse winter pile ups in history involved over 150 vehicles on I-94 in Michigan in January of 2015. Stunningly, only one person died, a truck driver from Quebec. Emergency crews were already on their way when vehicles continued to pile into each other. They were very lucky.
In 2013 on Highway 41/43 near Germantown, Wisconsin, one of the most bizarre slow reaction chain of events unfolded with no fatalities but lots of minor injuries. Imagine if this accident occurred hundreds of miles away from a large city.
Be safe and happy motoring!