De­sign guru dis­cusses the ir­re­versible march of mech­a­ni­sa­tion and au­to­ma­tion from an avid mo­tor­cy­clist’s point of view

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obotics have been play­ing

an in­creas­ing role in our lives for, well, most of our lives. whether that’s the mech­a­niza­tion of in­dus­trial pro­cesses, the au­to­ma­tion of sup­ply and de­liv­ery, or now in­ter­act­ing with a vir­tual as­sis­tant such as ama­zon’s alexa, we’re all

linked to ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence at some level, even if we aren’t al­ways aware of it. one thing is for sure — that in­ter­ac­tion is only go­ing to in­crease, and very likely, ex­po­nen­tially.

the in­fil­tra­tion of robotics into the mo­tor­cy­cle world has, up to this point, been mostly from a man­u­fac­tur­ing per­spec­tive. I re­mem­ber be­ing proudly shown a robotic han­dle­bar press in tai­wan many years ago that took metal tubes, cut, pressed and fin­ished them with au­to­mated pre­ci­sion. Un­til one tube went in at a slightly wrong an­gle and got bent out of all recog­ni­tion as the ma­chine went through its pre-pro­grammed reper­toire. the ejec­tion arm couldn’t find any­thing to eject, and the whole ma­chine went into con­fu­sion mode un­til two chaps in over­alls jumped in and killed the fuse. I found it all highly en­ter­tain­ing, al­though my host, anx­ious to demon­strate his com­pany’s tech­no­log­i­cal lead, was less amused.

things have moved on sig­nif­i­cantly since then, al­though there’s still a gen­eral public ap­pre­hen­sion that in­di­cates we’re wait­ing for it all to go hor­ri­bly wrong. that doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean the de­struc­tion of the en­tire hu­man race by self-learn­ing mech­a­nised death ro­bots, but don’t tell me you don’t nod an in­ward I-told-you-so ev­ery time you hear of an ac­ci­dent in­volv­ing a self-driv­ing ve­hi­cle. the fact that the cause is mostly due to some dip-weed in man­ual con­trol of a se­cond ve­hi­cle doesn’t ad­just our per­spec­tive that au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles are all ac­ci­dents wait­ing to hap­pen.

the amer­i­can au­to­mo­bile as­so­ci­a­tion (aaa) fa­mously launched the au­ton­o­mous ‘ho­pon’ shut­tle on the las Ve­gas strip in Novem­ber, which in­fa­mously crashed on its first day of op­er­a­tion. the fault was a re­vers­ing de­liv­ery truck. the shut­tle spot­ted the im­pend­ing in­ci­dent, and duly stopped, while ein­stein, the truck driver, didn’t, and didn’t. the re­sult should

AAA’s ‘Ho­pon’ au­ton­o­mous Las Ve­gas shut­tle was in­volved in an ac­ci­dent on day one

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