We Solve for X: Rodney Brooks on American manufacturing


[MUSIC PLAYING] RODNEY BROOKS: I’m going
to talk about American manufacturing– how we solve for American
manufacturing. American manufacturing is not
dead despite what many people thinking about it. It’s a $2 trillion dollar
enterprise. Chinese manufacturing
is $2 trillion. European manufacturing
is $2 trillion. Japanese manufacturing
is $1 trillion. So that just gives you a size of
the scale of manufacturing. But American manufacturing
has, I think, lost its ways in many ways. It hasn’t had the information
technology revolution that everything else in our
lives has had. We’ve made it less resilient. After Fukushima in 2011,
10 days later American manufacturers started shutting
down because the supply chain went via Japan. And things were not resilient. So how do we make
it resilient? We had made American
manufacturing efficient by outsourcing the low end. We started after the Second
World War by going to Japan, where it was a technological
society, economy was in ruins, low cost labor. But as the economy came
back up, it was no longer low cost labor. So we moved. We [? headed ?] off to Korea– low cost labor. The society grew. People became more aware. People moved up the
value chain. And it became too expensive. We moved to Taiwan. Same thing happened there. Manufacturing was cheap
there originally, but it became more expensive. Then we moved into southern
China via Hong Kong. The same sort of
thing happened. By the early ’90s, it was too
expensive to do sewing for toys in China– late ’90s. And so we start moving down to
Vietnam in the late ’90s. And there things go up. And eventually we ran out of
places to go do low cost manufacturing. But doing low cost manufacturing
in the far distant places has had a bad
impact on our innovation, because the innovation tends
to move to those places. Innovation doesn’t happen back
here where the innovators are. So there’s some movement
happening out there in the world now. There’s a bunch of people doing
different things, coming together in small groups. And they’re spread out across
the country, not just in Silicon Valley, not
just in Boston. There’s stuff happening where
there’s makers, there’s tech shop, there’s all this
bottom up stuff. How do we build stuff
ourselves? How do we make that happen? And I think that’s the
core of a great idea. So there are people out
there making stuff. Some of you might know
Chris Anderson up in the right hand corner. He just left “Wired” to go to
his maker space where he’s building stuff for
do-it-yourself drones. But there’s lots of people– bottom right there is a maker
bot, which is a 3D printer. You see it’s made of wood,
out of New York City. There’s a lot of people
doing this stuff. They’re just bubbling
away at stuff. And it reminds me a lot of
something that most of you are too young to remember. But I remember Silicon Valley,
and around the late ’70s the Homebrew Computer Club
led to us here. That led to what we all have. It led to the people trying
out ideas then venture capitalists coming in, the whole
infrastructure coming in on top of that. And we got to where we are
today with information technology. So that’s starting to happen
with manufacturing and doing it yourself, building
stuff yourself. But it needs a bunch
of things. The computer revolution, the
IT revolution, didn’t just happen by itself. There were a bunch of other
things that were needed. There were inventions. Certainly, we need a
lot of inventions. I’m going to show you
some inventions. But we also need infrastructure
and new business models. And new business models
are an opportunity. There’s lots and lots of
opportunity in how we change manufacturing. I’m going to talk about
inventions first. Inventions are incredibly
important to information technology– invention after invention. There’s lots of inventions in
the manufacturing space. The one I’ve been working on
for the last four years is about low cost labor and how
we can’t have that sort of Chinese low cost labor
in the US. People don’t want those jobs. So how do we get around
that and bring manufacturing more locally? So I’ve been working on
a robot called Baxter. Baxter is a humanoid robot. It does look like science
fiction robots it turns out in this case. And I’m going to show you some
video of how Baxter operates. Here’s someone programming it. And she doesn’t know about
quaternions it turns out. Whereas current industrial
robots, you have to know about quaternions to program
it to do anything. She just picks it up. She moves the hand. She presses some buttons. The robot figures out
what she means. Now it’s going to do the task. Oh, and it says, I don’t
like that kinematics that you gave me. So it moves the other
arm out of the way. It optimizes the pathway. It figures it out. It’s looking a little puzzled,
so you get some feedback as this happens. Ah, OK. Now I know what to do. So the idea– and here, it’s a bit washed out,
but this is a graphical user interface. It’s easy to use as
a smartphone. Here’s the robot, doesn’t
know what to do. She goes in. She shows it the objects
it’s supposed to see. It learns the objects. She shows the left arm and the
right arm– different objects, tells them what to do with it. And in a matter of minutes,
it’s now able to sort these objects. But it’s got inbuilt
intelligence. So it missed. Damn. But it’s OK. If figures it out. It goes and tries again. It’s got error recovery built
in and goes off and picks up the object with its left hand
that it’s supposed to pick up and goes and puts it where
it’s supposed to be. And everything is force based. So it feels a force. It lets go. And it’s safe to be around. Oh, dear. If that was a current
industrial robot, she would be dead. But she’s not. But you program this robot by
grabbing it, moving it, showing it. You don’t need any external
language. You don’t need to an
external computer. You just show it what you want
to do, interact with the graphical user interface. You plug it into
other machines. It interacts with the
other machines. And it does real tasks
in real factories. By the way, it’s built
in the United States. It’s $22,000. It’s a very low cost
robot built here. And the trick we play is we make
it so that the end user doesn’t have to know
deep stuff. So the end user, sort of like
in an Ikea catalog, gets to build a hand for the particular
task they want to do with a kit of parts. They put the pieces together. They don’t need training
on how to build hands. It’s all very graphical. They build a hand, but now the
robot can see the hand itself. So it’s got to know what its
own hand looks like. So we let the robot put it up
against the red screen, see through its camera what the hand
looks like, and figure this stuff out. We don’t ask people to do
complicated things. We let the robot do the
complicated stuff. So this robot’s now
starting shipping. They’re starting to
be in factories. This is Mildred. Mildred has worked for 25 years
in a plastics factory in Connecticut. This is one hour after
she first saw an industrial robot– first time in her life. In that one hour, she had
learnt to program it. She had made it do tasks
in the factory. She’s getting older as are all
our factory workers are getting older. But by giving them a tool that
they can interact with and they can program, it’s not
like automation is coming from on high. They become the robot
supervisors. They get control of what
they’re doing. And I think that’s
very important. So that’s one sort of
invention we need. There’s lots of other
inventions. There’s a Form Labs
3D printer. 3D printers are great,
but we need 3D printers to be much better. They have to be able to
deal with plastics and metal at the same time. They have to be high speed. 3D printers are too slow
for bulk manufacturing. They need to be able to
put electronics in as they print things. And the killer app, I think,
for 3D printers is if they could build tools, if they could
build tooling so you can have molds for plastics
and metal. On top of 3D printers, you need
super CAD, I call it. CAD that’s parametric. CAD that involves the
manufacturing knowledge and information in the CAD. It’s not just a WYSIWYG, this
is what the part looks like. It’s how the part is built,
because once you have that, now designs become much
more portable than they were before. So lots of invention. But we also need
infrastructure. In information technology, we’ve
had this infrastructure that’s grown over the last 30
years, which makes it easy to do a startup, because you’ve
got the network. You can just plug into
the network. You’ve got the infrastructure. But we need different
infrastructure for manufacturing. And there’s all sorts of
infrastructure that we have lost in the US. This is a little company
in Silicon Valley. I happen to know it, because the
upper person there is my daughter, Alice. She started a company
to build something. She went on to Kickstarter, as
many people do, raised much more money than she expected,
promised she would manufacture her product in the US. Now she had thousands of
customers, had to manufacture, tried to manufacture in the
US, couldn’t do it. So she and Bettina headed
off to China. This is all in the space of
three or four months. That’s where she had to go
in order to scale-up manufacturing. And one of the critical things
was, 3D printers were not fast enough. She needed tooling, couldn’t get
tooling in the US, had to build tools in China. That’s a common theme. You have to build tools in
China, because there just isn’t that capability
in the US. So how do we help all these
people with these great ideas? We need infrastructure. We need quick scale-up. The president of Flextronics
just a couple weeks ago said he would love to have more
manufacturing in the US, but in Asia he can go from zero to a
fully-functioning factory in three months. He can just put it
all together. Can’t do that in the US, can’t
do that quick scale-up. We need supply chain dynamism. People say we can’t bring iPhone
manufacturing back to the US, because there’s not a
supply chain that can support building 50 million iPhones
every three months where the models change and have that
dynamism in supply chain. There’s a lot of infrastructure
we need to build and infrastructure
companies. And then tooling– critical, critical, critical. That robot I showed
you we built– $22,000, made in the US,
has almost 200 tools. We could not build the
tools in the US. We had to build the tools
in China and bring them back to the US. There is not that capability. But there’s also business
models. Business models have changed
every two years in the information technology
space for 30 years. The business models that operate
today, you couldn’t even conceive of 30 years ago. Many of them you couldn’t
conceive of 10 years ago. Twitter just bought
Bluefin Labs. Who knew that Twitter analytics
was a big idea that there were going to be lots of
companies competing around. So the business models
change over time. And business models in
manufacturing have not changed for the last 50 years. So there’s an incredible
opportunity there. So here’s just one example of
changing a business model. Right now, a product company,
you design the product. You go over to China. You build it in China. Then you pay high oil prices
to bring it to the US. It goes out into retail
through some channels. And the retailers get it out
to people, whether they’re brick and mortar or internet
retailers. That’s how things work now. With enough invention,
maybe things will change how it works. Maybe the product companies sell
their designs in Super CAD to the retailers. The retailers get local
manufacturers to bid on this package that they have, which
includes all manufacturing information. And the manufacturers build the
stuff, and it goes out to people, again maybe not via
a brick and mortar store. That’s an example of a different
sort of business model that can come about
with the right tools. But there’s lots and lots
of business models that can come about. Like we see in information
technology, there’s all sorts of business models about
plug-n-play equipment, how that comes together
very quickly. There’s business models about
supply chain optimization. There will be lots and lots of–
just like there’s lots and lots of ad analytics
companies– lots and lots of companies about supply
chain optimization. And the very nature of
how you buy stuff in your supply chain– I liken it to GE used
to sell jet engines. They now sell hours of jet
engines operating. Right now, people buy stuff. Maybe they start buying flow
rather than stuff. So there’s all sorts
of things that can happen in business models. So we’ve got people out
there doing stuff. We’ve got these makers and
various people doing things. But if we come together and
think about this together, we can do lots of things
and change the way manufacturing works. And so we see people, makers. And there’s one of the makers
here in the front row, Steve. You know that guy. So Steve in his weekends,
he makes stuff. And he carries that over to his
weekday job and invests in companies that make bigger
versions of that stuff. So these makers are
doing stuff. There’s people building
3D printers. There’s people doing things. As we come together, we can make
them much more efficient, because they build some
radical stuff. But sometimes it’s a little too
much Steve Wozniak and not enough Steve Jobs. And we need to help this
movement with a little more of that. And so my call to action here
is all of us, let’s start building stuff and let’s
make the stuff. Let’s make it in the US. We can do it. And we get a much more resilient
manufacturing. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] [MUSIC PLAYING]

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3 thoughts on “We Solve for X: Rodney Brooks on American manufacturing

  1. Wow, killer presentation style!
    I like the design.

    However, the idea behind it is a bit hidden. Its more of a moral push than a moon shot.

  2. On 2004 I discovered a painting robot which worked more or less like this one. The robot was made in Italy and was intended for the wood-cabinet industry; the name was Iride. The painter just had to teach the robot all the movements, and then the robot just repeated 24×7 the paths and movements to paint chairs, tables, etc

  3. I don't understand his comment about the US not having the capability to build tooling. Tooling manufacturers are a dime a dozen in my neck of the woods.

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