It’s not a preview for the new Transformers film being presented on stage at the Boston Convention Center. This isn’t science fiction, but reality – a discussion on the fourth industrial revolution. Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser has brought with him two guests: a pair of robots that look like over-sized spiders. To him, they represent the start of industrial automation and perform beyond a person’s wildest dreams.
Miriam Meckel: Mr. Kaeser, what are those two doing here?
Joe Kaeser: They’re friends of mine. Both are autonomous robots. We call them “spiderbots,” because they move like spiders. They’re equipped with artificial intelligence software and can work with other robots on 3D printing projects. They are a prototype developed by Siemens researchers at Princeton. One day, bots like these will be able to shape the structures and surfaces of large, complex objects, such as airplane fuselages or ship hulls. This is an exciting vision of the future of manufacturing: machines working together to build new machines.
Before our interview, one of the robots told me it’s nice to be here in Boston. Why make it speak?
Because we still need a human interface. The robots communicate digitally with each other – in ones and zeros. But ultimately the focus is on people. The bots have to be able to communicate with them.
You once said that Industry 4.0 will determine the fate of German industry. How confident are you that the outcome will be positive?
The good news is that value-creation chains will become more efficient. The bad news for some is that these chains will be severely shortened; segments that don’t bring any added value will be eliminated. Soon many jobs won’t exist in the form we know them today. But new activities and many new jobs will also be created. The challenge will be to provide people with the skills required for the new jobs.