Sensationalism Sells

In today's popular press, the more sensational a story, the more newspapers publishers will sell. This is particularly true of supermarket tabloids but has now spilled over into television and even high-technology reporting.

Andy Wilson

In today's popular press, the more sensational a story, the more newspapers publishers will sell. This is particularly true of supermarket tabloids but has now spilled over into television and even high-technology reporting.

In February, this year, Deborah Turness, President of NBC News informed employees that Brian Williams, Managing Editor and Anchor of NBC Nightly News would be suspended without pay for six months. Turness euphemistically explained that "while on (NBC'S) Nightly News on Friday, January 30, 2015, Brian misrepresented events which occurred while he was covering the Iraq War in 2003." Other media outlets immediately pointed out that Williams had falsely claimed to be a passenger in a helicopter that had been hit by a grenade.

While sensational (rather embellished) stories provide good fodder for TV stations lacking news reporting teams of their own, they are also the purview of the popular science press. In a rather more amusing tale, Steve Crowe, a journalist for Robotics Trends published a story entitled "Fire Department Rescues Woman Attacked by Robot Vacuum" (http://bit.ly/1EstLy9).

In the article, Crowe wrote that a robot vacuum had "mistakenly" ingested the hair of a South Korean woman who was sleeping on the floor. An accompanying photograph showed fire department personnel pulling the mechanical attacker from the woman's head. Although the story was more amusing than the one told by Brian Williams, the robot in question was named incorrectly as a Roomba robot vacuum from iRobot (Bedford, MA, USA; www.irobot.com).

Needless to say, the folks at iRobot were rather displeased with the story and pointed out that vacuum in question was not one of its models and that at iRobot "Customer safety is paramount - all products are developed with this in mind."

Developers of industrial robots used in manufacturing have been fully aware of the potential hazards associated with mixing men and machines for years. Indeed, a number of standards currently exist that specify the requirements and guidelines for the inherent safe deployment of industrial robots.

To ensure this occurs, numerous safety rails, light curtains and vision systems are often deployed with robotic systems to ensure that should a human operator be detected in the vicinity, the systems will immediately shut down.

However, as indicated in this month's Product Focus article entitled "Robots increase manufacturing productivity," a new generation of robotic systems are now emerging that work in conjunction with human operators. These force-limited robots often employ padded surfaces and vision systems to reduce the danger of robots operating with excessive force or too closely to operators. By employing such technologies, manufacturers of robots and the companies that employ them will avoid sensational stories appearing in both the popular and trade press.

Andy WilsonAndy Wilson, Editor in Chief
andyw@pennwell.com
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