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As Workers Spread Out to Halt the Virus, Robots Fill the Gaps


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piece-picking robotic arm

Credit: RightHand Robotics

The coronavirus pandemic has cost millions of jobs. Now, it may transform work in other ways. As manufacturers and e-commerce companies struggle to adapt to social distancing, regular cleaning, and a potential shortage of workers because of quarantines, some may invest in robots.

"We have to consider more automation, more use of robotics, in order for people to be spaced apart," says Shohei Matsumoto, deputy general manager of the R&D division at PalTac. "There are going to be fewer opportunities for humans to touch the items."

Increased use of automation may speed the adoption of robots in critical new areas. Tyson Foods was forced to close several meat packing plants last week after workers tested positive for the coronavirus. Meat processing plants tend to lack much automation, but Tyson began investing in robots last year to account for labor shortages.

Mark Muro, a senior policy director at the Brookings Institution, says companies may look to automation to improve efficiency as revenue shrinks because of the pandemic. Demand for automation increased in previous downturns, he says.

From Wired
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