Tuesday, April 2, 2019

A Pit Crew of State-Issued Toyota Robots

The headline struck fear into my heart. It said that at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, a fleet of robots made by Toyota that are designed to assist cripples will be deployed to assist cripples attending the games.

It was the same surge of dread I felt when I was in college in the 1970s. I was invited to an event demonstrating a robot designed to assist cripples. It would be only a matter of time, I fretted, before the state would use this as an excuse to cut off the funds that paid the wages of the members of my pit crew, which is what I call the people I hire to lift me in and out of bed, put on my pants, etc. If issuing me a robot to do all that for me instead would save the state a few bucks, they’d do it in a heartbeat.

Even if a robot could do all the routine stuff my pit crew guys could do, a robot can’t improvise. It can only do what it’s programmed to do. What if something unexpected happens, like I unwittingly roll through dog shit and get it all over my tires? It's happened before. A human will grab a bucket and scrub my tires. But a robot will just stand there sputtering.

But when I saw the robot I felt greatly relieved. It looked like that silver, square-headed maid on the Jetsons. It was as nimble as a rhinoceros. I knew it would be a looooong time before this thing would be ready to replace my pit crew.

But Toyota’s been working on these robots since 2012. They call them human support robots. So maybe by the 2020 Olympics these things will be versatile enough to replace my pit crew guys.

I dug around and found a video of a Toyota robot in action assisting a quad and again and I felt greatly relieved. About all these things can do for cripples is bring us stuff like water bottles, pick things up from the floor and open doors and blinds. That’s about all they ever will be able to do. Big fucking deal.

They’re not anywhere near ready to replace humans. At best, maybe they’re ready to replace service dogs. The jobs of emotional support dogs appear to still be safe. But maybe not. I suppose it wouldn’t be too hard for Toyota to program human support robots to say comforting things like, “You shouldn’t be so hard on yourself. You really are a good person.”

I still can't relax. Maybe no single human support robot can do all the things my pit crew does. But maybe soon a whole fleet of them will be able to. Each will be programmed to perform a specific task. I already have one such robot in my home. It’s a big disc and it diligently buzzes around cleaning my floors. So maybe one Toyota robot will put on my pants and another will lift me out of bed, etc. And I’ll have another highly-specialized robot stored deep in my closet. It will only come out and spring into action when I roll through dog shit.

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