MENLO PARK (CBS SF) – Robots abound in the movies but in real life, there are only one million in United States businesses and homes. But all of that is about to change, according to robotics experts in the Bay Area.

“We are now in a position where we are inventing this next generation of persona land service robots,” says Rich Mahoney of SRI International in Menlo Park. “It’s just a matter of time that those benefits are going to be seen in the everyday world.

Far behind more automated countries like Japan and Germany, the United States is playing a game of manufacturing catch-up. But now, industry leaders are choosing to keep their plants in the country, partly with the help of robots. And now, machines once considered to be job killers, are becoming job creators.

“What robots are able to do is they are able to make companies more competitive,” says John Dulchinos CEO of Adept Technology, Inc., a Pleasanton-based manufacturer of robots. “What we have seen is that companies have stopped moving jobs overseas, stopped moving manufacturing overseas.”

Dulchinos points to data generated by companies like chip manufacturing giant Intel, which has been able to use robots to increase productivity at their domestic plants. Workers are not getting laid off there, and keeping their facilities on U.S. soil means more jobs for the community at large. According to Intel’s research, for every one job at the company, four more are created at other firms.

At Earthbound Farm, one of the largest providers of organic lettuce in the country, executives have spent nearly one-million dollars to install five robots in their processing plant. The repetitive task of putting lettuce in plastic containers is now up to a machine. The human-worker who used to do it, has not lost their job nor has anyone else at the company.

Instead workers are trained to work with robots and their new skill-set earns them a higher wage. Executives at the company say robots will enable them to increase productivity, lower prices for customers and allow employees to have a better life. “They are going to afford a better cost of living,” says Earthbound Farm Vice President Will Daniels.

At the heart of the robotics revolution is the fact that robots no longer need to be isolated from humans. Adept has developed one that easily traverses office hallways and even gets out of the way when it encounters humans on its journey.

Hospitals are making the investment too, allowing robots to deliver medication and allowing nurses to focus on patients not getting pills from far-flung pharmacies.

Increased efficiency – once considered the enemy of the human worker – may now be the key to keeping companies, factories and jobs on U.S. soil.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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