Coping: Robots or Cobots?

imageI’m a black and white kind of guy.  Something is this way, or that way, but not both ways.  Ambivalence makes me nuts.

Living in a world of gray has not been a good experience, for the most part.  Yes, it’s a crime to kill someone.  But the old “eye for an eye” is gone if someone is crazy, were under the influence of drugs, or just has a better lawyer than the State has prosecuting its case.  And,  it works the other way around, too:  The federal government is not “more right, more often” in prosecutions – although that’s what their conviction rate infers.  No sir – they just have unlimited resources and that’s what courts have become about, seems mostly.  My law fund is bigger than your law fund.

Gray – instead of absolutes has watered down just about every angle of the moral code and fabric of society.  What passes for a “good” person now would likely have been judged a morals-deficient, mealy-mouthed, double-talking, half-thinker just a few short generations ago.  Land of data pervs and lazy spendthrifts would be the call a century back.

Hell, I’m still suspicious of photons when they can’t seem to make their minds up whether they want to be particles – or waves.  Something else is going on – Universe is not ambivalent.

That’s enough about how much  “I hate wiggle room”.

Up until recently, I had developed the same kind of attitude toward robots.  This has been at every level except medicine, where I have no doubt that a machine (backed by oodles of code) just might be able to do a better job of surgery than a shaking-hands, overworked pure human.  Especially if they have not been so “pure” lately, if you follow my drift.

Assuming the robo doctor has a back-up power supply so you don’t bleed out during a brownout – that kind of thing.

The suspicions go well beyond the simple definition of “robot” and also includes drones.

As a pilot, every time I take off, or land, I am exceptionally nervous until I’m either on the ground or safely up in the sky in what we affectionately call “Indian Country.”

That’s 3,500 feet up to about 17,500 which is where the Warriors, Apaches, Cherokees, Comanche’s,  and so on hang out.  Those BTW are aircraft brands of Piper Aircraft.

[About here, we could launch into a side discussion about Beechcraft.  What does a  Skipper, Musketeer, Sundowners, Debonair, or Bonanza have in common?  Piper marketing made sense.  But that’s a distraction from my point which is about the possibility of 10-pounds of drone killing me as it smashes into the propeller and than into the pilot’s face at 80-miles an hour.]

Drones should ALL (including law enforcement) be limited to 250 feet above ground or the highest charted obstruction or it’d be off to jail.  How hard is this shit to figure out? 

Let’s toss in other rules, too, like no operations what-so-ever within 5-miles of a charted airport. This includes the private fields like Skydive Spaceland or any of the other jump airports.  

How would YOU like to free-fall (slowly, like 170 MPH) into a 15-pound package drone that some is off joyriding?  Thanks, but no.

It hasn’t happened yet, but we know that “Big Sky Theory” will run  out of statistics one of these days and aircraft will start falling out of the skies and skydivers will keep diving – all the way to the ground – incapacitated by drones.

See how this gray stuff works?

Then in comes an email from Oilman2 this weekend:  Had to do with putting 15 pound drones on top of package delivery trucks and having them “make deliveries” while the driver….well, here’s OM2’s point:

I saw this today, and being an engineer, my mind said, “Why?”


!) Stop truck

2) Look at clipboard and find package

3) Carry package to door

4) Place checkmark on list

5) Retrun to truck and route

Training Required – CDL & reading ability

Failure Points – truck


1) Stop truck

2) Find package

3) Scan bar code on package

4) Position package for drone

5) Engage drone

6) Fly package to door

7) Offload Package

8) Return drone to truck

9) Enter delivery successful in scanner

10) Return to route

Training Required – CDL & drone operation license & scanner software & reading ability

Failure Points – truck & internet & drone & weather & scanner

The claim is $0.30 per mile with the electric truck and drone versus $1.00 per mile with gas truck. Just looking at the operations required says some things are hidden in the analysis, in particular training, permits, electric truck cost and drone cost. In particular, the order of operations tells one that the actual mechanics of delivering the package will require more time.  Payout is likely far longer due to expense of this equipment.

What is the point here?


If doesn’t take half a brain to figure this one out.  But seeing as that’s about how much brainpower I have on Monday, let me spell it out for you.

As we know, “everything is a business model.”  And, we also know that in order for there to be “growth” in the economy, people need jobs.  This, in turn, likes to a familiar problem around here:  “What is the NEW ABSOLUTELY GOTTA-HAVE-IT that will turn the ‘Merican public upside down and shake out some moolah (money, not clerics) and kick-start the economy?

One answer is robotics which is presently in the position that amateur radio was in during the early 1920s.  That is when the pieces of a new technology were being figured out, but they hadn’t been stitched together into broadly selling radio equipment.  That came in the latter 20s with companies like Zenith, Atwood, Emerson, and if memory serves (a bad bet on Monday) Hallicrafters, too, got their poop in a group.

Television later on had a pretty good run as an economic stimulus.  As did the incremental improvements in automobiles which have gone from crank windows and no heater all the way to power windows and air conditioning and cruise and a built-in display screen.

Robots hold promise of being such an economic stimulus, but not until we figure how to add a lot more warm and fuzzies to them.   So this morning I am unveiling a new term for public use – and to put it into the public domain for all future use and thereby unpatentable:  Cobots.

To be sure, there are some live patents with the word “cobot” involved, but a read of the US Patent database (TESS) doesn’t show any of them containing the word “robot” in the description.  So an up-and-coming robomaker could probably make a “human labor augmenting robot” and call it a cobot and be able to patent it.

First use in this context is here and since we have advertising on this page, it would likely pass muster as first-use for this intended purpose…but who knows?

Still, people are deeply suspicious of robotics – and with good reason.  They will do little more than replace humans in a variety of mind-numbing jobs, like fast food.  Keep an eye on

The reason for pointing them out (other than the fact they can 100% automate the burger biz) is that this kind of technology will likely be where we see the next big “Shades of Gray” develop in society.

Right now we live in a mostly “human does it” or “machine does it.”

The much broader question is “How will each contribute their values to a better burger/experience?” 

There is a way – even the automated burger level:  But that would depend on how many people you know at your state restaurant association.  And if you appreciate art.

A couple of classics from the culinary world of Seattle come to mind.  One was a Chinese restaurant named Ruby Chow’s.  She went on to a career in politics, but in the early days eating their it was not uncommon for her to come around and actually talk with the customers.  Same thing with Rosellini’s Italian restaurants.  Victor, in  particular was a gracious and engaging host.

But today, we’ve largely “gone off the rails” in the dining experience.  Heck, the popularity of buffet-lines and impersonal meals is appalling.  In  fact, when  I go into a Mickey D’s I find myself pondering just how much “industrial/impersonal” there is and how would a human or two running around working on customer service/personality help the dining experience?

Thus, it comes down to “all about gray” in the end.  It’s not whether robots are coming, but whether humanistic robots that work with people (as cobots) will really be what the future rolls out.  Or, whether it will be four-legged automatons that can be loaded down with weapons and used to clear whole regions of those bothersome humans.

Pretty interesting problem, I think you’d agree.

If I had an unlimited amount of time, I would be organizing a Society for Humanistic Functional Robotics.  Cal it SoHFuR  (suffer) for short.  We either get this right, or they get us, right?

Fortunately, I’m too busy…and it’s a project that someone much, much younger should take on…someone who will be around for a while to enjoy (or suffer) the results that come along.

A sobering note:  How long before the grave-digging function and burial of humans is done robotically.  A short eulogy video on Facebook and perhaps a huge digital graveyard…all new businesses yet-to-be founded.

Dying Digital, Inc.

Hell of a future to wake up to on a Monday, ain’t it?

Three Power Tool Weekend

I am likely a bit behind on the projects around the website due to spending part of the weekend on the stupid end of power tools.

My arms of choice for deck-building were my…

Makita XDT042 18V LXT Lithium-Ion Cordless Impact Driver Kit

The matching 18V Makita drill or you can buy them both as the Makita CT200RW 18V Compact Lithium-Ion Cordless Combo Kit, 2-Piece

And last but not least the Dewalt 12 Amp Variable Speed Reciprocating Saw DWE305

Since this was a rebuilding job, the recip saw was really useful getting in between old deck joints and cutting them down.  I made a note to myself to never go as crazy in design of a large deck as the previous one.  A 10X20 deck is enough for two people, the 20×20 was just absurd.

As is, I salvaged enough wood to build the planned deck off the sun room, though, which is fine.

A couple of learnings, though.

Main one is that when you are working with long pieces of recycled/repurposed wood (in this case, 20-foot sections of 2×6 that were the decking) you will be well-advised to have some pipe clamps and wedges built up ahead of time.,

Working with recycled material is fine and all, but to do even a half-way respectable job, you really need to clamp the bejezus out of things, smash in wedges to hold things in place, and THEN finally drill and screw things together.  Recycled wood isn’t so straight as fresh kiln dried goods.

On short lengths of material, say up to 8-feet, recycled goods are about like #2 lumber.  You’re going to have some that are not very good – and you’ll want to bury those down in the guts of your project.

Today we will slap the first coat of deck paint on it and I’ve putting in some really big sheet metal flashing…never going to have a dry rot problem again.

The whole first row of decking (next to the house) will be covered by a Z-shaped flashing which will be produced in no time at all (if you believe that…) with Ures truly’s air-powered nibble which will make the cutting of the 50-foot roll of sheet metal easy enough. 

With that, the metal will be cut down to useful lengths and bent just so in the bending brake.  It’s one of those tools that if you have it (box and pan brake, not a simple straight brake) you can make up all kinds of things like sheet metal boxes and so on.

Mine is 10-years old now but it’s similar to the SHOP FOX M1011 24-Inch Box and Pan Brake but you see the problem:  The brake is limited to 2-foot sections of this fancy Z-bend,. so that means making up about 10-sections of flashing, or so…and more screws to install with, but it’s cheaper than  buying a 48-inch brake.

Sheet metal is always out to kill you:  Worst shop cuts in my life have been from sheet metal so now I pick out my welding gloves  (US Forge 400 Welding Gloves Lined Leather, Blue $13) and my welding sleeve (Lincoln Electric Black One Size Flame-Resistant Welding Sleeves $11).  Speaking of shop-talk…

Want a Killer, Dirt Cheap Leather Jacket?

By the way:  Getting to be the time of year when the weather begins to settle down a bit.  Cold weather.  And, if you’re a genuine gear-head/jack-of-all-things, this is totally styling and profiling:

Lincoln Electric Brown X-Large Flame-Resistant Heavy Duty Leather Welding Jacket $70.

Yeah…this is the real deal and frankly, it’s one of the best outer wear deals around.  Don’t think it is as impressive as a “branded” leather jacket? 

Well, let me ask you something:  You meet someone at the store or as a watering hole.  If you are wearing what I would call “idiot branded gear” even if it’s leather, they are going to look at you and AT BEST they will figure you’re an idiot for spending money on a leather jacket that has some stupid ad lgo for something you don’t do on it.

On the other hand, if you have a real-deal split cowhide leather jacket, and if it says Lincoln Electric, anyone with half a pea for a brain will realize that you might actually own (OMG!) a welder and be able to make things with it.  People with welding jacks tend to do that, you know.  A few burns here and there add to the jacket.  Not too “salty” but enough to make it obviously real.

Around here, I have two sets of clothing for welding:  Fall/Spring gear is the big heavy leather apron, the sleeves and gloves.  For the apron, try the Hobart 770548 Leather Welding Apron.  The winter ensemble is the leather jacket with the apron on over it to keep the jacket from getting burn marks on it.

We could get into a discussion about which auto-darkening visor is best, but that’s really a matter of personal choice.  Just remember,  electric welding is tough on the eyes so always go with a darker shade than you think.  You want to be able to see the puddle of metal you’re pushing…not the area around it so much.  As someone who has been under the knife four times (cataracts and implants years ago) anything to go easy on the eyes when possible is what we roll with.

OK, time to sort out markets and then start laying out the new deck for the sun room…that promises to be 15-minutes of work and 3-hours of discussion.

Write when you break-even,



Coping: Robots or Cobots? — 7 Comments

  1. Hey George,
    I too worked a deck project at the ranch this past weekend. Or should I say the project worked me. In this case my tool of choice was the Bostitch framing nailer buttoning down 2X6 SYP decking. The front porch of the off grid cabin was getting a new top and I was down to the last deck board at the corner.

    Now normally I am very safety conscious and watch where I put my appendages when using any tools. Well this last board needed just a little nudge to line up so I gave it a little push then placed the wedge to hold it. When I leaned forward to steady myself my non firing hand found the edge of the board next to the target and instinctively folded over and in between the rim joist and the ribbon trim, set the safety nose over the mark and squeezed the trigger.

    Immediately I found myself thinking, did you just nail your finger to the deck? No, dumbass, I sad, you nailed your index finger to the ribbon trim. The 3″ nail had hit a knot in the joist below and deflected sideways pinning my left index finger through the rim joist and into the ribbon trim. A real crap sandwich.

    Remember this is off grid and I was all alone. Yelling was useless except at myself. I spent the next couple hours extricating myself from the predicament. This involved the very careful use of the only other tools I could reach, my heavy folding knife and framing hammer. The knife worked so so but took too long so I tried to use the claw of the hammer to chop away some of the lumber. That worked a little better until I got too close to my hand and well I won’t go any further.

    Couple hours later I found myself driving 45 miles to the nearest ER with my left hand still nailed securely to a big ugly chunk of bloody lumber. Fortunately no bone or nerve damage done. Just to my ego. Bunch of stitches my daughter the RN has already told me I cannot take out myself.

    Moral of this long story. Even though I treasure my time off grid I guess the damn phone will stay in my overall chest pocket and the no hands zone will expand out when using power tools going forward.


  2. Hi
    What about an article on investing in robotics ,since we will be living through the transition.

  3. If a drone comes zipping over your property, is it trespassing? Does owning your land mean owning your airspace?

    If you can assume it is of a threatening nature, can you lawfully shoot it down?

    If you are having a party when this happens, can you make it a targeting competition?

  4. The Onion has you scooped on “cobots” —

    Wall Street Firm Develops New High-Speed Algorithm Capable Of Performing Over 10,000 Ethical Violations Per Second

  5. George,

    The killer app for cobots is the girlfriend cobot/sexbot. Someone that’s as helpful and hot as a wife would ideally be, yet without hard to manage things like a temper.

    She should be super hot in bed, and as a bonus, she would never get pregnant, never complain, and also be able to cook and clean. Everything the average modern housewife wishes to avoid. Think Cherry 2000, and make her waterproof.

    For those of us who despair of ever finding a living/breathing 20 something, this would be the real answer, and worth plenty. I doubt there would be a great used market though.

    • The “girlfriend cobot/sexbot” would have a side-effect which would be of great interest in certain circles. Birth rates would display “the glide path of a brick” in countries where these things were common.

      Heh. No need to get one’s hands dirty actually killing people because you think there are too many of them; just push these things out, and wait a few decades. (The ethical questions that come to mind are interesting, and seem to me difficult to work through.)