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Thursday
May252017

ROBOTIC LUGGAGE THIEVES

Don't let him get away!I remember years ago when Steve Martin admitted he believed robots were stealing his luggage. Up until that time, most of us would have been too embarrassed to agree with him but not anymore.  In 2016, airlines mishandled 21.8 million bags at a cost of 2.3 billion dollars in reimbursements to passengers.  Now putting that in perspective, passengers paid the airlines 4.2 billion dollars in baggage fees – this is based on the twenty-five largest US airlines -- to transport their belongings to their correct destinations.  The vast majority of the bags went missing during layovers when they had to be taken off one plane and deposited into the cargo compartment of another.  Hmm.

The above figures seem huge but, the amount of lost or misplaced luggage has gone down dramatically over the last few years.  Airline agencies insist that it’s because of new tracking systems now in place that keep a better eye on wandering bags.  I tend to think there is more to it than that.  My theory is that those bag stealing robots that have been hanging around airports have found better employment.

Back around 400 BC, Archytas built a wooden bird that he powered using steam.  The bird could fly for short distances until the steam ran out but, it made enough of an impression to go down in history as the first known robot.  My first inkling of what a robot should be was Robby the Robot, big, fat and usually friendly, unlike Gort who was big and scary.  Then the day came when I watched Fritz Lang’s1927 movie, Metropolis, featuring “the Machinenmensch.”  She was one of the first robots ever depicted on film and should have had enough influence on us to never want to create any others like her, but of course, we kept going forward, producing robots that would make our lives easier and get the job done on time.

The 1960s saw the beginnings of the industrial robotic age when General Motors included a unit capable of lifting hot pieces of metal from a die casting machine and then stacking them. From then on there was nothing stopping the future.  Robots, although still not physically resembling humans, took over many of the dangerous, dirty and low-end tasks supposedly allowing us more freedom to take on more difficult endeavors, more suited to our intellect.

Even more sophisticated robots have become part of our lives, driving automobiles, flying airplanes – the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Global Hawk flew over the Pacific Ocean from Edwards Air Force Base in California to RAAF Base Edinburgh in Southern Australia in twenty-two hours – and even joining the astronauts up on the Space Station.  Robots play a big part in the manufacturing process and in laboratory research and even perform surgery with skill and precision beyond human capability.  What about the robot telemarketers that tie up your phones lines and make you feel stupid when you think you’re talking to a person.  We can’t forget that tiny, hard working Roomba that is capable of multi-tasking, cleaning your floors while entertaining small children and animals.

Many of those airport robots that were hanging around baggage areas and lounges have left the area entirely  Instead of selling the contents of your luggage they found better gigs elsewhere.  According to a Bank of America study, by 2025 robots will be performing 45 percent of manufacturing tasks, given that the prices of robots and computers are falling.  Costs have declined by 27 percent over the past decade and are expected to drop by another 22 percent in the next decade.  With the bottom line being profitability, employers will have little choice when it comes to hiring.

Customer service jobs will be performed by pleasant, clean and always cheerful automatons as well as positions requiring accounting and statistical analysis.  Models with the perfect face and figure will always be on call to take to the runway and umpires will be able to call a ball in or out without his Seeing Eye dog.  Soon, luggage will remain in the belly of that big metal bird, to be reunited with its rightful owner and the new cry that will be heard across the universe will be that robots are stealing my JOB!

Sharon

BTW     Years ago when we lived in Chicago, I wanted to buy a toy robot for our son.  Trekking downtown, I entered the holy grail of toy departments at Marshall Field and Company.  I purchased the robot and we all had a fun time playing on the kitchen floor, Jason laughing when the dogs would either run from it or try to attack it.  It survived many battles and I still have the thing but, I took the batteries out after I found my purse missing.

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