Institute without Boundaries

Projects Without Boundaries: What will the the first massively produced robot look like?

By Chriz Miller

Where the technology is now — a researcher at the Shadow Robot Company uses a sensor glove to control the robot in front of him. Credit:

Question: What will the the first massively produced robot look like?

My Best Guess: Exactly like a pair of hands.


Even massive systems have to scale up. Our built world is already made for human proportions. Using existing tools to do existing jobs, ‘Hand-bots’ could fit into the existing systems and take on one task at a time, with the potential to scale to the billions.

Mimicking hands also helps to overcome a serious design challenge: how to program them. Using Kinect-type motion reading or sensor gloves, human workers could “teach” the Hand-bots to do their work and then be replaced by them.

Since robots make the best economic sense in high-quality repetitive labour, early adopters will likely be Foxconn and other manufacturers in its class. These companies will provide the market to spur innovation, scale up production and bring down unit costs. Soon, Hand-bot could be affordable for everyone.

As Hand-bot become common, prices will drop, making them a more accessible tool for any repetitive manual work. Need something that can prep your meals, do the dishes and fold your laundry? Imagine just downloading the function from a market of ‘motion apps’ to program your Hand-bot to do whatever you need.

Why does it matter? 

No matter what the exact form looks like, technology is destroying jobs far more rapidly than it is making them. What kind of jobs will be lost when the handbot arrives? By some predictions, soon taxi drivers will be replaced with automated cars,  doctors will be less effective than diagnostic tools and one professor will teach 100,000 students at a time. Will we use these efficiencies to create a Jetson’s two-hour work day, or will our economy become one where only wealth makes wealth and the rest of us are left behind?  The rise of the machines is already well underway. What kind of revolution will it create?

Projects Without Boundaries is an IwB Blog column where design thinkers dream big.  Here they get to imagine a world without the constraints of budgets, bureaucratic red tape, voters, clients and maybe even physical limitations.  Each article will feature the dream project of one designer/design studio and an accompanying image.

Chriz Miller is a Design Strategist with a post-grad certificate from the Institute without Boundaries. His most recent work experience was working as a strategist and doing Human Resources management with the largest independent NGO in South America.

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The Institute without Boundaries is a Toronto-based studio that works towards collaborative design action and seeks to achieve social, ecological and economic innovation. To learn more click here.

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