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Self-lacing shoes: the start of our automated lives?

Imagine getting dressed in the morning, wiggling your feet into your shoes and waiting for a sensor and cable system to use its algorithm-based pressure to adjust the fit and tie the laces . This futuristic idea became a reality when Nike launched its HyperAdapt 1.0 shoes at the end of 2016. Retailing for a hefty US$720 per pair, their release highlights an increasing shift towards automation of everyday aspects of our lives.

Surrendering to automation

Does saying goodbye to fiddling with pesky laces mark the beginning of completely automated lives? According to Professor Saeid Nahavandi, Director of the Institute for Intelligent Systems Research and Innovation at Deakin University, automation – machines performing some or all of a task with little to no human intervention – is on the rise, but it won’t replace all human tasks anytime soon. The technology is, however, becoming very sophisticated. ‘The automation industry is moving from hard automation to more programmable, flexible, intelligent automation,’ Prof. Nahavandi explains.

In future, many people will enjoy the perks of living in a personalised smart home, perhaps powered by Google or Amazon. And some experts predict a future where our house will be able to distinguish who’s home based on our heartbeat and perform specific functions for us accordingly. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to stop dressing ourselves or brushing our own teeth any time soon. Automation will be integrated into our lives, but it won’t make every task we perform ourselves obsolete. ‘Humans will always play a role but it depends where in the chain and for what sort of task. Ideally all the dull, dirty and dangerous tasks will be transferred to be executed by robots, and humans will enjoy carrying out tasks that are interesting, stimulating and enjoyable,’ Prof. Nahavandi predicts. Rather than making ourselves redundant, opportunistic entrepreneurs will harness these advances and spend time generating profitable ideas instead of completing time-consuming, labour-based work.

'Ideally all the dull, dirty and dangerous tasks will be transferred to be executed by robots, and humans will enjoy carrying out tasks that are interesting, stimulating and enjoyable.'

Professor Saeid Nahavandi,
Deakin University

Refining the role of automation

As the automation industry is shifting from mass automation to customised automation, those working in this field will focus on the ‘brain and intelligence of the robots to give them partial or full autonomy capability to perform a wide variety of tasks,’ according to Prof. Nahavandi.

However, he says that while automation will play a role in our work and personal lives, the traditional human approach to work and sense of purpose will also evolve. ‘The automation ecosystem will go through a change process that demands a new way of thinking and solving problems,’ Prof. Nahavandi says. The new role for humans will be establishing ways to disrupt existing industries with new autonomous efficiencies and setting new ways of working in a world where autonomous tools do much of the heavy lifting for us.

But not everyone supports this future. Bill Gates has argued that a robot tax should be implemented in order to slow the rate of automation in business if we want to continue living in buoyant economic times.

On the flipside, others believe automation will stimulate the economy. In an article for IEEE Systems, Man and Cybernetics magazine, Prof. Nahavandi highlights predictions that autonomous robot activity will generate between US$1.9 and US$6.4 trillion in economic activity annually by 2025. He believes that robots performing automated tasks will be responsible for a diverse range of roles including cleaning the environment, feeding humans through intelligent farming, robotic surgery, deep ocean activities and assisting with natural disasters. ‘The sky is the limit,’ Prof. Nahavandi concludes.

The one sure thing is that having more automation around menial tasks will allow people more time to do one thing that robots can’t – think. So, in the near future, while your shoes are lacing themselves, you can be focusing on more important things, like revolutionising the way we work.

Want to be part of the future of automation? Consider studying a Bachelor of Mechatronics Engineering (Honours) at Deakin University.

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Professor Saeid Nahavandi
Professor Saeid Nahavandi

Director, Institute for Intelligent Systems Research and Innovation (IISRI), Deakin University
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