The issue of robots doing jobs formerly done by humans is a sticky one of politics, emotion, and sheer economics. Robots have been seen in a variety of formerly exclusively human endeavors, but perhaps the newest field to see robots gaining ground is in the field of aerospace.
Robotic precision and endurance are two of the biggest reasons to bring in robots to perform tasks, and the aerospace industry is rapidly discovering the power that robots have in the market. While robots have often played a big role in engine manufacture, many are discovering that they have other applications as well, even if the more traditional robots aren't necessarily the best in aeronautics applications.
Perhaps one of the biggest uses for robots in aerospace is in terms of drilling. Drilling holes in aircraft fuselages is a process that takes a whole lot of time and effort--thousands of individual holes are required, so having a human do it would take days or more--but with a robot backed up with vision systems, the drilling becomes fast, precise, and feasible in hours instead of days. Moreover, a robot drilling can accomplish in just one pass what would be a four-step process for humans, which cuts down time spent on the project even further.
But drilling isn't the only thing that robots do in aerospace applications; applying paint, for example, is a task that's often left to robots in aerospace due to the hazardous nature of the job itself. While common tasks like drilling and painting are common robot provinces, inspection duties are often falling to the high precision analysis that robots can put into play, since they have access to sensor devices in the ultrasonic range that humans generally don't have. Robots are also well-equipped to spot cracks and de-lamination, or rivets in the early stages of failure, much more rapidly and effectively than humans can. With the demand for aircraft increasing the world over, more robots will be necessary even as more humans will be; the aerospace industry believed that, over the next 20 years, they would spend $3.25 trillion. Just a year later, in 2012, they adjusted that number to $4 trillion.
Naturally, the increasing use of robots in aerospace activities has some concerned. The growing use of robots in health care and law enforcement is likewise unnerving, especially to those who work in the fields that may well see themselves replaced by a robot. Yet at the same time, it's hard to deny that ultra-precise aircraft inspection and construction is a must, so having that robot drill holes or use ultrasound to measure for potential problems before the aircraft hits the skies is a welcome prospect. Using robots in hazardous jobs is also hard to argue with.
There will likely always be a place for robots in the work force. It just behooves us as a society to not become overly dependent on robots unless we find that our work force becomes so automated that there's simply no room for humanity in it any longer.
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Edited by Brooke Neuman