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The Next Hot Job: Pretending to Be a Robot


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robot monitor, illustration

Credit: Daniel Hertzberg / WSJ

Michael Niedermayer used to fly drones for the U.S. Army and the Central Intelligence Agency, gathering real-time, life-and-death intelligence on battlefields in Iraq. Now he pilots delivery robots for a San Francisco Bay Area startup that wants to disrupt burrito delivery.

Postmates, which in mid-August received a permit to operate its Serve delivery robot in San Francisco and is already testing it for food delivery in Los Angeles, employs a growing team of "pilots" to remotely oversee, and at times steer, these four-wheeled food ferries.

"We will probably see a drastic increase in our workforce over the next five years," says Postmates Chief Executive Bastian Lehmann.

Across industries, engineers are building atop work done a generation ago by designers of military drones. Whether it's terrestrial delivery robots, flying delivery drones, office-patrolling security robots, inventory-checking robots in grocery stores, or remotely piloted cars and trucks, the machines that were supposed to revolutionize everything by operating autonomously turn out to require, at the very least, humans minding them from afar.

The proliferation of not-yet-autonomous technologies is driving a tiny but rapidly growing workforce.

From The Wall Street Journal
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