Robots in a dairy farm

I saw this video from Bloomberg about the use of robots in dairy farms. It's always a challenge to work in an environment that constantly changes such as a farm. However, that didn't stop the company in the video to create 3 robots for tasks that used to be the domain of human workers:
  • Feed moving
  • Dung cleaning
  • Milking
Of the three tasks above, I consider milking the most challenging as it involves a moving creature with non-rigid body. Issues such as force control (to prevent cow discomfort or injuries) and dynamic visual servoing (to catch the moving udders) are some of the control issues that come to mind. Other engineering problems would be the robustness of the robots, battery life or power (for the mobile robots), and cost.

The robotic solutions doesn't come cheap (USD 200K per robot).

Maybe full automation is not really necessary? If the goal is to increase productivity, would providing farm workers with tools that could assist in executing his job at high speed be more cost-effective?


The irony of social media -- as pondered by Simon & Garfunkel 50 years earlier

A video is going around social media titled, "Look Up". The video essay speaks of how social media (mobile phone?) actually makes people unsocial. With eyes glued to mobile phones, opportunities to connect to one another just pass us by. It's a call to pry ourselves away from our phones, hence, the title.

Half a century ago in 1964 the duo Simon and Garfunkel, through their song The Sound of Silence also warned of technology that could cause isolation -- television.

I learned about the real meaning of this song in a poetry class in university,  32 years after the song was released. I couldn't relate to the song because I grew up in a generation when watching television is a norm (even necessary for some as it is one of the cheapest forms of entertainment). It felt like what the singing duo warned about didn't really take place or maybe it did, but a fish wouldn't really know what water is.

Humans in general would adapt to any given situation. Whether it's for the worse or the better is a matter left to future generations to find out. As for mobile phones, I think we just have to remember, "too much of something is bad enough".


Nature of work has changed... and so should our concept of work-life balance

Back when I was a university student, I was scolded by a senior for being a too busy and worry-wart that lines started to appear on my forehead at the age of 17. I was told that I should take a breather and not work all the time. That maybe I should stop letting work define me.

Well, she was right. I had to take a breather. But her statement on equating my self-worth with work is something that bothered me ever since. I couldn't agree with it, but I didn't disagree with it either. I hold it as a reminder not to overwork myself. However, I did enjoy what I was doing.

Two recent articles from the economist brought back this issue to my attention:
Harvard Blog Review:  Don't let career cause regrets in your personal life
Economist: Nice work if you can get out

The first article's gist is clear from the title. However, the author mentioned that maybe, we can mix personal and work life. We don't have to have a very clear separation of the two.

The second article shows some statistics that people who earn more tend to take fewer vacations (leisure time). He posed a question though -- has work become enjoyable that people do not need to take as much leisure time as before? Interesting.

Back in high school, I learned of Dignity of Labor from Laborem Exercens, an encyclical by Pope John Paul II that
THROUGH WORK man must earn his daily bread and contribute to the continual advance of science and technology and, above all, to elevating unceasingly the cultural and moral level of the society within which he lives in community with those who belong to the same family. And work means any activity by man, whether manual or intellectual, whatever its nature or circumstances; it means any human activity that can and must be recognized as work, in the midst of all the many activities of which man is capable and to which he is predisposed by his very nature, by virtue of humanity itself. Man is made to be in the visible universe an image and likeness of God himself, and he is placed in it in order to subdue the earth. From the beginning therefore he is called to work. Work is one of the characteristics that distinguish man from the rest of creatures, whose activity for sustaining their lives cannot be called work. Only man is capable of work, and only man works, at the same time by work occupying his existence on earth. Thus work bears a particular mark of man and of humanity, the mark of a person operating within a community of persons. And this mark decides its interior characteristics; in a sense it constitutes its very nature.
My friends and I used to tease each other with this teaching by saying, "dangal sa paggawa" (dignity of labor), to mean that we have no choice but to do whatever it is that we have to do (ie, we cannot wish away our problems and tasks). It was a juvenile perspective on work, but something that I continue to strongly believe in.

It is good to be reminded not to ruin personal life with work, otherwise, we would suffer for it. After all, the most important things in life involve your loved ones, not work. (But what if your loved ones are part of your work?). I hope you would find time to read the HBR article as it has a few interesting points.

However, I must admit that I enjoy the guilty pleasures of work, especially since I can mix my work time with personal time (I can work from home, I can work anywhere, and I don't have to work 8am-5pm). I may be one of the lucky few who can do this. Or I may be part of the statistics mentioned in the Economist article that has a work that is enjoyable.

Just a reminder:
The Choice
The intellect of man is forced to choose
perfection of the life, or of the work,
And if it take the second must refuse
A heavenly mansion, raging in the dark.
When all that story's finished, what's the news?
In luck or out the toil has left its mark:
That old perplexity an empty purse,
Or the day's vanity, the night's remorse.

- William Butler Yeats