Category: STEM careers

Another View on “Will Robots Eliminate Jobs?”

The name ‘robot’ came from a play written by Czech writer, Karel Capel. ‘Robot’ was used to “denote fictional automata.” According to Wikipedia, “The play begins in a factory that uses a chemical substitute for protoplasm to manufacture living, simplified people called robots. The play does not focus in detail on the technology behind the creation of these living creatures, but in their appearance they prefigure modern ideas of androids, creatures who can be mistaken for humans. These mass-produced workers are depicted as efficient but emotionless, incapable of original thinking and indifferent to self-preservation.”

In 1954 George Devol invented the “first digitally operated and programmable robot” — he named it Unimate. Looking back on this event, it can be seen that this robot ended up becoming the underpinning of the modern robotics industry.

Devol sold Unimate to General Motors and in 1961 it was installed in a automotive manufacturing plant in Trenton, NJ. Its main function was to lift and stack, i.e., to lift hot metal pieces from a die cast machine and stack them for later use. As can be seen by this operation, robots have been used for one of three types of  jobs:

  • Performing a job with more accuracy and reliability than humans,
  • Dangerous jobs or extreme environments (like the above),
  • Jobs that are dull and boring.

Educational robots are used to teach how various STEM disciplines work together and do not necessarily encounter resistance from parents, educators, or students. However, there are heated discussions about jobs replacing workers. Since I receive articles from various sources regarding robots – both educational and industrial – I thought I would share a link to an article that asks the question, “But Will Robots Eliminate Jobs?” After reading this short paragraph, you can make up your own mind.

Quote of the Day: ““If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.” – John Quincy Adams

One Very Special Day at Scott County 9th Grade Classes

Last Friday turned out to be one special day. A good friend of mine asked me to speak to his students about STEM careers and other topics of interest. I took my buddy, Scott, up on his request for several reasons:

  • He has a class of pre-engineering students (actually I found out that he has 5 classes that he teaches during the day),
  • The students are well-mannered and show keen interest in their future,
  • I enjoy speaking to students on a subject that is near and dear to my heart, and
  • Scott has worked for IBM and Perot Systems as an electrical engineer and “retired” from both companies, then,
  • He went back to get his Masters in Education – he is a real hero to me,
  • Scott will be retiring from teaching after this year and I wanted him to have some of the day off.

After being introduced by Scott, I mentioned that when I first met Mr. B that I didn’t think he liked me at all, but over the years we have become best friends. One thing I have observed with students that Scott has taught over the years is after the students get in high school, they come back and let them know how much they appreciated how he taught the class and prepared them for high school. In some cases those that went on to college came back and let him know that his class is what helped them the most to do well in engineering. I encouraged these students to do the same.

After some other ‘ice breakers’ we were ready for what I loved to speak about – robots!  This time I was going to show the students a timeline from when I first started teaching my sons and daughter about robots up to the present. The first robot we built was found in a Boy’s Life magazine. We called it our trash can robot (see Figure 1 for a rendition of what we were attempting to build).

Figure 1 - Boy's Life Robot

Figure 1Boy’s Life Robot

The robot was a very basic wheeled robot that used two Tyco motors to drive the robot and a tethered cable tied to a control box with 4 DPDT (double pole, double throw) switches that allowed the motors for the bottom wheels to turn either direction and the motors that drove the arms to be able to turn each direction.  If someone is interested in the instructions on how to build this basic yet fun tethered robot, here are the instructions.

February 1987 Boys Life Build a Robot

Next, I moved on to the Lego Wall Follower Maze robot. It was one I had built to show our 4-H members a robot that could solve a maze using the ‘left hand rule.’ Lego always gets students involved especially when the robot wanders around the room looking for a wall to follow. When building a wall follower robot, most Lego enthusiasts say the ultrasonic sensor should be pointing directly in front of the robot or to the side of the robot. That never worked for me, so I built it so the ultrasonic sensor pointed forward in a 45 degree angle. The robot was the only bot that made it into and out of the maze.

Next on the agenda was a robot I took to last year’s session. It was a robot made by Wowwee called MiP (Mobile Inverted Pendulum). I wanted to get one of these robots because it is a self-balancing robot (a lot like a Segway) that has a gyroscope and an accelerometer built in. The robot was a hit because it kept making unusual sounds that kept the students attention. Here is a link to a nine minute YouTube review of the MiP robot MiP Robot

Additionally here’s a picture of the MiP robot (see Figure 2). On the left is a stunt teeter ramp where you can use the free MiP app and drive the bot up and over the ramp. You have to practice some before you can be a master roboticist. The robot is sitting on a tray accessory where you can have the MiP bot carry some light objects around. Overall, the bot has seven modes that you can make it do various tricks.

Figure 2 - Wowwee MiP robot with Stunt Teetor Totter

Figure 2 – Wowwee MiP robot with Stunt Teeter Ramp


The fourth robot is my smallest robot. It is appropriately called a Wink robot that I bought from a Kickstarter project. The beauty of this robot is that you can program in Arduino, a C++ like language. The most difficult part of getting the robot to work was to download all of the files, the Arduino code, and special code the company, Plum Geek, provided. Once you get all of the files in the correct folders, it is easy to set up the correct serial port in order to create the Arduino “sketch” or programming palette.

The students really enjoyed how fast this little bot moved around the floor with the LEDs blinking different colors and also the sounds it made when it was near an obstacle. If you want something that gives you immediate feedback on your programming, the Wink is the robot for you. Below is the video that was used on the Kickstarter campaign.

Wink Robot

My final robot is my pride and joy. My wife and children gave me this robot for Christmas 2015. It took me 103 days to start working on it due to a prior engagement working with our local 4-H Robotic Club (please see my prior posts). Once I got started on building this robot, I could not stop. It took me 3 hours to assemble the pins and another 10 hours assembling the 16 servo motors, the cables, the protective gear, and the excellent skeleton which made it look like a humanoid.

This robot is made by Robotis and it used the same pins as what was used in Ollo Explorer Kit I built a few years ago (see prior blog). After a few pins were inserted as directed in the instructions, my prior experience kicked in and it became easy to assemble. One thing you have to watch out for is ensuring you weave the cables through the proper channel. If you don’t and later when you turn it on, it might cause the wires to come loose or break.

Like the MiP robot, you can download a free app and immediately get the robot to move (if you have taken your time installing each servo correctly). I was so thrilled to see the robot come alive after I had recharged the two batteries. The same Eureka feeling I had when I built my DC motors and turned on the switch, came over me when this robot started to move.

It has several ways to get it to move and so far I have used the button mode and the voice recognition mode. I still have a lot to learn to be able to string together commands to make the robot start walking, stop and wave, do a pushup, stand up, sit down, and then do a handstand. It is really remarkable seeing it do all of these actions. It is a 16 degree-of-freedom (DOF) robot and all that is required is some imagination. Below are three pictures of the completed robot. Unfortunately, I did not have the stickers on the robot at the time of photography (see Figure 3, 4, and 5).

Figure 3 - Completely Assembled Robotis Mini Darwin Robot

Figure 3 – Completely Assembled Robotis Mini Darwin Robot


Figure 4 - Mini Darwin robot Sitting Down

Figure 4 – Mini Darwin Robot Sitting Down


Figure 5 - Mini Darwin Robot Bowing Using Free App

Figure 5 – Mini Darwin Robot Greeting Each Student Using Free App


Overall, it was a wonderful day. It was a lot of fun and at least three students from each of four classes were able to win some king-sized chocolate candy for answering some lateral thinking problems. I left each class with six steps for each student to think about:

  1. Need to think about your future (by considering what you enjoyed doing when you were 12 because at age 12 what you did was what you enjoyed and you probably weren’t paid for it),
  2. Be open to change,
  3. Maintain a life-long love-of-learning,
  4. Be willing to help people solve their problems,
  5. Know you are on the earth for a God-given purpose,
  6. Think

It will be sad to see that Scott will retire in a few weeks, but knowing Scott, he’ll work around his home, completing honey-do lists, and then find a position that will fulfill his engineering love. He will be missed for sure.

Quote for the Day: “It just takes one idea to live like a king for the rest of your life.” — Ross Perot


Worldwide Spend on Robotics Estimated to Reach $135B by 2019

A recent press release by International Data Corporation (IDC) has forecast that global spend on robotics and associated services are expected to increase from $71 billion (B) to over $135B in 2019, a 17 percent CAGR (compound annual growth rate). Robotics is one of Innovation Accelerators (coined by IDC) for the future. The other “accelerators”mentioned are: Augmented & Virtual Reality, Cognitive Systems, Internet of Things (IoT), Next Gen Security, and 3D Printing.


Sony's Aibo Dog Robot







Figure 1: Sony’s AIBO (Artificial Intelligence RoBOt) Dog

This forecast includes global spending on robotics systems that includes consumer, industrial, and service robots. Although it is expected to grow over $31B in 2019, the services-related spend that includes consulting, education, training, systems integration will grow over $32B becoming the largest and fastest-growing area of robotics spending even beyond the spend on servers/storage and software.

Once again, consulting agencies are forecasting strong growth in another STEM industry that will appeal to those that want to help better humanity.


Quote for the Day: “If you want to get to the top, you must first get off your bottom.” — Khan Wong


Will Robotics Impact Education?

Anyone with a passing interest in smartphones, cars, and even toy robots can see that technology continues to impress. Some smartphones use Siri which learns from its errors and, in effect, has become what is known as “weak AI” (artificial intelligence). Newer cars have the ability to receive basic commands from its driver for temperature and music control and implement those commands to the joy of its driver and passengers. Toy robots continue to evolve and what was a toy a few years ago has now become an educational robot with sensors, cameras, and new types of mobility that has made middle and high school robot tournaments very entertaining.

It seems that over the next five years or so, STEM education will have an even greater impact on creativity and innovation. As STEM courses become part of the school’s core curriculum, robotics will serve as the central focus. Most parents support this notion and the two fields they want most for their children to pursue are science and engineering.

Benefits of Programming

Oxford University believes that at least 46 percent of U.S. jobs could become automated in the next 20 years. As such, it is important to learn the programming skills to understand what drives the mechanisms. In order to make the robot move, make adjustments, and learn, student innovators need to learn to program using Scratch, Python, C, or ROS (Robot Operating System) or other open-source software programs. On the lighter side, coding, programming, and robotics integrates the basic knowledge from three main STEM subjects – mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and computer programming. Not only is there cross-pollination under the auspices of play, robotics helps develop teamwork, coordination, and friendly competition. As mentioned previously, robots are increasingly being used as edutainment for students – having fun while learning.

The Future of Robotics

As STEM education seeks to keep up with the fast pace of technology, robotics will become the next computer industry. With an eye toward trends, robotics and their uses will become standardized since robots will replace some boring and dangerous jobs in manufacturing, in security, and possibly household chores. STEM education will focus around robotics  and will function somewhat similar to the computer technology in the ’80s. As the fascination with computer hardware gave way to the software explosion, so will robotics hardware give way to programming and coding.

New STEM study plays havoc with workers

The National Science Board (NSB) released a new report that shows that innovation has made it quite difficult to differentiate between STEM workers and non-STEM workers.

The chairman of the NSB, Dan Arvizu, reported, “We’re observing that this term we use, ‘STEM workforce,’ is really a nebulous term. As science and technology have…permeated all corners of our economy, the distinctions between STEM and non-STEM jobs in the workplace are beginning to blur.”

A STEM index sponsored by U.S. News/Raytheon showed that U.S. STEM employment increased by 30 percent from 2000 to 2013. Interestingly enough, these numbers “do not include jobs in non-traditional STEM fields that still require STEM skills.”

Some think that instead of asking how many STEM workers do we need, that we ought to be asking “what knowledge and skills do all of our workers need now and in the future?”

If academia starts to use this question as the basis for planning courses preparing students for future positions, it will greatly expand its offerings. Today there is such an overlap in technical requirements in most jobs that it is difficult to know what background the employee has pursued in order to achieve competence.


Quote for the Day: “There is always a moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.” — Graham Green, The Power and the Glory


A real “treat” for the end of the school year!

This past week Mr. Scott Bailey invited me to speak to three of his engineering classes at Scott County 9th Grade school. I’ve known Mr. Bailey for over four years and he is the finest engineer-turned-teacher I know. He is knowledgeable, supportive and helpful to his students, volunteers for multiple events, and really wants to see his students reach success in school and later in life. He has become a very good friend. Since we met two days before school was out for the year this was a treat for his classes and some brainy students were able to walk away with a literal “treat” of a bag of yogurt-covered pretzels or a Hershey candy bar.


Speaking about DC motors and robots

Speaking about DC motors and robots


Most of you know I love to speak about small DC motors. Of course, this was the start of my discussion with the students, but then we branched into how motors and servos are used for a few robots, and we wrapped up our time together in each class by encouraging the students to consider a STEM career. I found a few statistics from an article written by Steve Crowe, managing editor of Robotics Business Review, regarding high school seniors and STEM careers:

  • Only 16 percent of American high school seniors are proficient in mathematics and interested in a STEM career
  • Only 30 percent of high school seniors who took the ACT test were cleared for college level sciences
  • Average income for a STEM career:  $77,880/year

These facts were a wake-up call to most students, but three years until they would become a senior seemed like eternity right now.


Showing the MIP (Mobile Inverted Pendulum) robot

Showing the MIP (Mobile Inverted Pendulum) robot

This year Mr. Bailey had some bright students as evidenced by some excellent end-of-course assessment scores. Most of his students are planning on pursuing engineering – some are interested in architectural engineering, chemical, aeronautical, electrical, mechanical and civil engineering. I love interacting with the students and get a good sense of what inspires them and what turns them off. One of the things that got them going was a few riddles. These were riddles that required them to ‘think outside the box.’ These were riddles I had learned when we studied lateral thinking in college. I tried to explain that some people have a tendency to think this way and those that didn’t today can learn to do so in the future. This ability to think on a deeper plane helps tremendously with problem solving – to look at a problem from different perspectives. It’s all a part of the scientific method.


The students had good questions and were attentive

The students had good questions and were attentive

It was a joy speaking to these three classes of 9th graders. Despite it being near the end of the school year they were attentive and asked good questions. In the last class, the students didn’t want the class to end. Not only did this demonstrate their interest in considering a STEM career, it gave me hope this millennial generation will be well prepared to carry on and improve on the technical careers that are available today and those careers that have not even been named yet.


Quote for the Day:  “The greater danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it. But that it is too low… and we reach it.” — Michelangelo, 1475-1564

Are women really leaving the tech industry?

A recent article written in Inc. by Jill Krasny asked “Why women are ditching the engineering industry in droves.” In the article, Jill mentioned a psychologist from the University of Wisconsin, Nadya Fouad, who stated less than 65 percent of women she surveyed were currently working in engineering. She went on to say there appeared to be three main reasons:

  • the ‘good old boys club’ was evident,
  • little room for advancement, and
  • no female role models.

Her take was not that women had to change, the work environment had to change. She also remarked that “more than any profession,” engineering had the highest turnover of all – even more than medicine and law.

As a counter to this article is an article from the U.S. News and World Report written by Allie Bidwell that there is “No ‘Leaky Pipeline’ for Women in STEM.” She approaches the subject first by stating that those women that get a bachelor’s degree in STEM subjects are less likely than men to get a PhD.

Quoted from the article, “But an analysis of 30-year trends in pSTEM fields – those in physical science, technology, engineering and mathematics – shows the gender gap in persistence rates actually has closed since the 1970s, when men were nearly two times as likely to later earn a relevant doctorate. By the 1990s, the gap had completely closed, the study found. Researchers David Miller of Northwestern and Jonathan Wai, a Duke University Talent Identification Program research scientist, chose to focus on pSTEM fields and exclude social sciences and life sciences.”

Miller proposed to re-frame the issue from just “plugging leaks” to one of getting more (women) students interested in the STEM fields in the first place.

As an observer of STEM careers, it is critically apparent that women need to have female role models. Those that have been through the studying, internships, and times of difficulty and have come out successful can greatly encourage young students. It is important to provide encouragement and advice, in some cases providing mentorship. In our area, Toyota Motor Manufacturing has a group of women who provide meetings, presentations, and tours of the Camry manufacturing facility for women that are considering pursuing STEM fields, particularly engineering.

Engineering is just one of the many STEM careers that allow women to use their math and science skills and creativity for the world. It would behoove parents that are interested in their daughter’s future (if they show promise in STEM subjects) to pursue finding out now about alternatives for summer or after school camps to help encourage them to persist through the difficulties in order to have a satisfying career.


Quote for the Day: “The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” — Walt Disney



Do you know what AMT stands for?

At our last Advisory Board meeting for Elkhorn Crossing School (ECS) in Scott County, KY one of the local engineers started speaking about an “AMT” program. Most of the other engineering Board members seemed to understand all about this AMT program. Since the conversation was going strong I didn’t want to interrupt and ask what does AMT stand for. The banter went on for about 15 minutes while the benefits and advantages of the program were being discussed. It sounded like a program that any aspiring STEM student that had a bent toward engineering would love.

One of the major discussion items concerned those students that had competed for and eventually got into the ECS pre-engineering curriculum. It was felt those students wanted to go on to college and receive their Bachelors of Science in some field of engineering and weren’t really interested in this AMT program. Others thought the AMT program was a very powerful program that met a need for a variety of students who wanted to be challenged on a daily basis to problem solve. In addition, the program met a need for local manufacturing companies to prepare students to understand design concepts and utilize higher order thinking skills in areas such as electronics, motor controls, sensors, and robotics. Plus it was set up to provide high-paying jobs. Along the way, the AMT program provided an Associates degree.

Now that I have given you several clues, do you know what AMT stands for?

Here’s a few more clues. Toyota Motor Manufacturing and Bluegrass Community and Technical College have partnered to provide the curriculum and hands-on training. All of the classes are held at the Toyota plant in Georgetown, KY. The plant is the size of 156 football fields. Just about all of the students that complete the AMT program end up with a very good-paying and enjoyable job. The starting salary if you graduate from this program approaches $65,000/year. With overtime, a person can come home with as much as $80,000. “That’s more than the median starting salary for graduates of the highest-earning bachelor’s degree programs in the United States, according to a recent report by PayScale.”

So, now you must know what the acronym, “AMT” stands for. It stands for Advanced Manufacturing Technician. The manufacturing industry competes for skilled workers just like the healthcare, financial, construction, and professional services industries. In the past, manufacturing plants were considered “hot and dirty” and conjured up images of steel or textiles mills. Today, in order to recruit employees, factories are generally clean, cool, and well lit – mainly because robots (and people) don’t work well in hot and dirty environments.

The AMT program is a program that gives students a definite direction in their lives. When students ask what they can get out of the program, student advisers can give them a specific answer and will not have to beat around the bush. With the price of college education continuing to increase year-by-year, one of the best programs I have seen that benefits the person and the company is this AMT program. Here is a link to a wonderful article on the AMT program in Kentucky.


Quote for the Day: “Successful people are always looking for opportunities to help others. Unsuccessful people are always asking, “What’s in it for me?”   — Brian Tracy

What are your thoughts about STEM education in the United States?

My day job is working for a printing and imaging consultancy. You get to meet a lot of smart people that are passionate about an industry that has been very resilient. One such person is Ms. Kay Du Fernandez, Vice President, Strategic Business Development, Konica Minolta Business Solutions. The following is a blog she wrote concerning STEM Education and the Future of Innovation. For those that are concerned about educating our children in math and science, Fernandez makes a strong plea. Below is her entire blog. Enjoy her expert opinion from a key executive.

kfernandez headshotThis past summer, my 12-year-old daughter attended the Beuhler Challenger & Science Center Rocket Girls Science and Astronomy Camp. It was a week-long day camp focusing on encouraging girls to use science, math and technology to shape their futures. They built and launched rockets and learned about astronomy and women in aviation. Especially touching to me was the session about Sally Ride, the first female in space, who was also a professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego, my alma mater. My daughter came home daily with new facts, excited to share her learnings, and reciting the names of the planets and facts about our solar system at every opportunity. Fueling passion for science, technology, engineering and math, often referred to as STEM, during childhood is extremely important to our nation’s students and our future as a global leader.

The U.S. became a global leader in the STEM fields thanks to the brilliance of our scientists, engineers and innovators. But today, that global leadership is threatened as too few U.S. students achieve in math and science or pursue STEM degrees and careers. This issue was brought to national attention in 2009 when President Obama made STEM education a priority with the Educate to Innovate campaign.

When addressing this problem, we must consider the demographics of our nation’s current and future workforce. The World Economic Forum ranks the United States 52nd in the quality of mathematics and science education, and 5th in overall global competitiveness In addition, the United States ranks 27th in developed nations in the proportion of college students receiving undergraduate degrees in science and engineering. Compare this to the growth in STEM jobs estimated by the U.S. Commerce Department to be three times greater than non-STEM jobs between 2000-2010. STEM jobs are expected to grow by 17 percent through 2018, as compared with 9.8 percent growth in other fields.

As a global technology organization, I was reminded of this while recently attending the Global Executive Program (GEP) at Konica Minolta, Inc. headquarters in Japan. Exposed to a number of advanced technologies and innovations, I truly believe our Advanced Layers division may change the shape of environmental sustainability. I saw newly developed mirrored solar panels that have a high durability against UV exposure up to 20 years and reflectance at an average solar-weighted specular reflectance of 94%. These solar panels generate 100 megawatts of electric power that could power 1,000 households and do not degenerate! In addition, with our historic leadership in camera film, our high-tech thin film and lamination technology has attracted Tesla Motors to install our window film on their line of electric cars. This film significantly reduces heat generation by 90% while allowing minimal interference for electromagnetic rays to ensure GPS system transparency.

Konica Minolta’s DNA is inherently about advancing technology. We consistently strive to make creating new value for society a priority, and new value cannot be created without innovation in the STEM fields. Technology is one of the most-pervasive forces in our society today, and not enough Twentysomethings leave college campuses to pursue STEM-related jobs. To compound this, STEM has created new industries with jobs like Application Developer, Data Scientist, Cloud Computing Services and Sustainability Expert, which are so new, they didn’t exist a decade ago. In 2011, Apple generated $15 billion in revenue alone from mobile applications. As demand for these new industries increases, it’s guaranteed our children will be competing for future jobs that don’t exist now, with skills that aren’t even present today. We must all encourage this next generation to dream and reach for the stars so they might one day become scientists, engineers and mathematicians. Our nation and future depend on the future global thinkers, scientists and problem solvers.


Quote for the Day: “Once stretched by a new idea, the mind never regains it’s original dimensions.” — Oliver Wendell Holmes

How do parents get their daughters interested in STEM education?

Hello everyone,  the holidays are upon us and in a few days we will be celebrating Thanksgiving. Sometimes this holiday takes a backseat to Halloween and Christmas. This is not good. As Abraham Lincoln wrote when he first established America’s first annual national day of Thanksgiving in 1863, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” Psalms 33:12

“Sarah Josepha Hale, a 74-year-old magazine editor, wrote a letter to Lincoln on September 28, 1863, urging him to have the “day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival.” She explained, “You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authoritive fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution.”      Source: Thanksgiving Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln

This year we get to visit our oldest son, his wife, and his first son (our first grandson) in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. First time in over 15 years we have traveled more than 120 miles for Thanksgiving. It will be a great visit with lasting memories.

I have run across an excellent article in the Atlantic magazine that describes some of the difficulties and what is being done to promote STEM education for women. The statistics are amazing. Enjoy the article and the video by clicking the link below.


 Quotes for the Day: “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” — Jim Rohn
“Pay any price to stay in the presence of extraordinary people.” — Mike Murdock