Would you like to clean toxic waste from a nuclear power plant?... didn’t think so
“It's a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it” is a well-known idiom that might soon be obsolete. Many jobs are dirty, dangerous, dull, and just entirely unpleasant. However, these jobs still need to be done by someone. And although it seems logical that these jobs will be paid more, the truth is usually the opposite - the dirtier “blue collar” jobs pay much less than the cleaner “white collar” ones. Let’s just say that the person scaling the outside of a building and cleaning the windows gets paid less than the person sitting in the air-conditioned room on the other side of the glass. Is it fair? Not really. It’s just the way it is. But it doesn’t have to be.
Robots can take over the jobs that human beings never actually wanted. For hundreds of years, humans had to labor under terrible conditions, doing life-threatening jobs like mining, unhealthy jobs like chimney sweeping, or mind-numbing jobs like working on an assembly line. These “3-D” jobs - Dirty, Dangerous & Dull are exactly what robots excel at; Working in Perales conditions, in filthy or toxic environments, or doing repetitive tasks over and over ad-nausea.
Take the bomb-disposal robot, for example. The first bomb-disposal robots were crude devices that relied on a maze of control cables to function. While these robots were effective, they were no match for modern robots. These sophisticated pieces of machinery can navigate autonomously to the bomb and then provide telepresence capabilities for an experienced bomb defuser, who can use virtual reality to look at the bomb from any direction and manipulate the robotic arms as if they were his own. These robots provide all the advantages of bomb diffusing without any disadvantages. They allow the bomb squad to keep their jobs and, more importantly, their lives.
Or how about a brave robot that flies into volcanos? In 2017, scientists from the Universities of Cambridge and Bristol used a specially designed drone to fly directly into the volcanic plume, collect data from inside the clouds, and send visual and thermal images of inaccessible volcano peaks in Guatemala. And it survived. Additionally, the fixed-wing drone could be flown from as far as 8 km (4.97 miles), making the environment for operators even safer. For the fearless robot, it's just another day at the office.
Now let us ask you this - would you ever consider working as a car paint inspector? “And what does a car paint inspector do,” you might ask. Well, he literally watches paint dry. All day, every day. Luckily, this isn’t a person we are talking about - it’s the reflectCONTROL PSS 8005.D automated paint inspection robot, specially designed to look for drips, runs, and other imperfections on painted surfaces. Particularly popular in the automotive and aerospace sectors (but also important to storage tank manufacturers and others). Four of these bots, placed on either side of a car shell, can perform a complete surface inspection in just 60 seconds. This bot has been around for over a decade, and this model must have inspected hundreds of thousands of car shell paint jobs in that time. That's a lot of dull human labor eliminated.
And how about inspecting the temperature of frozen peas all day? Or 12-hour shifts where your sole responsibility is to squeeze milk bottles made of plastic to check for leaks? Or having a job that consists of nothing except slicing 50lb (23kg) slabs of cheese into four parts? Since robots do not get bored like people do, they can perform tasks that many people would find mind-numbing, like repeatedly testing the same component. Some bots, like Ford's 'Robutt,' perform tedious and time-consuming tasks that are beyond human capabilities. Instead of having a human worker put a car seat through a decade's worth of regular wear and tear by sitting down on it 25,000 times, Robutt does all the work without missing a beat.
And then there are the Dirty jobs, like making your way through the city sewers, looking for and dealing with clogged pipes filled with… well, the less we say, the better. Not only are these environments disgusting, but they can also be extremely hazardous. That is why some sewer robots, like the Bandicoot from Kerala, India-based startup Genrobotics, can also detect levels of toxic gases in sewer systems. This is a vitally important feature in a country where it is estimated that 1,600 people tragically lost their lives between 2014 and 2018 while cleaning septic tanks and sewers.
In conclusion, when we say that “It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it,” that ‘someone’ doesn’t have to be a human being. Robots are more than happy to take risks for us, be bored for us, and go into places that are just too icky for us. And the funny thing is - they will probably do a better job than us and not ask for anything in return.