By Scott Goldfine, Security Sales & Integration and Robolliance Sponsor
A founding technology sponsor of the Robolliance program, Bell and Howell (B&H) is a name synonymous with innovation and technology solutions for more than 100 years. Today, the firm delivers enriching customer communications and fulfillment for the world’s largest finance, industry and public sector enterprises. Headquartered in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, B&H’s service organization is among the most sophisticated in the world for production workflow, automation and industrial mechatronics.
As part of our Sponsor Spotlight series, Scott Goldfine of EH Publishing’s “Security Sales & Integration” interviewed Ramesh Ratan to get his answers to our Robolliance inquiries. Here’s what CEO Ramesh Ratan had to say . . .
SG: Please tell me about your organization, and how technology, like robotics, fits in to its interests and opportunities.
RR: The history of Bell and Howell reads like the history of industrial automation. The company was founded in 1907 by some entrepreneurs, who automated motion picture cameras. Prior to that, movie cameras were hand-cranked. Throughout our history, the company has been in the business of applying technology to media, IT and, more recently, mail and parcels. Building on our expertise in vision systems, IT systems, and what I like to call “mechatronics,” it made sense to us to become more involved in robotics, which are basically a form of industrial automation.
SG: Please tell me about yourself, and how your background and interests intersect with the direction your company is taking with high tech, like robotics.
RR: I spent the better part of two decades at Bell Labs, the company that invented transistors and the Unix computer language, and pioneered computing and the Internet. My training is as a mathematician but early in my career I worked as a mechanical engineer. The natural evolution of my career — who I am and what I’ve learned ― is a direct result of experiencing and promoting the synergy between mechanical and information systems.
SG: Why did you and your organization decide to become part of Robolliance, and what do you envision the initiative accomplishing?
RR: Bell and Howell is a founding member of Robolliance, mainly through our relationship with Sharp Electronics. We are the exclusive, authorized service provider to customers of the Sharp INTELLOS UGV. Robolliance was formed as leadership ecosystem for the field of robotics and industrial automation focused initially on safety and physical security. We feel our company can play a part in helping to improve industrial workflow. Our sense is that the Robolliance initiative will help robotics become an important part of global economies and industry.
SG: Looking at the overall marketplace, how do you see robotics making an impact as a force multiplier, safety enhancement and/or security solution? Any other major impact potential?
RR: When you put together all the elements of industrial automation — mechanics, electronics and computing ― it all came together to form robotics. Currently, we’re enjoying the combination of mechatronics, automation and the Internet of Things for the purpose of augmenting the work that humans in jobs cannot or do not want to do. We’re seeing machines communicating with each other. I believe we’re in the early stages of seeing networked robots providing growth in productivity and social systems, hence an improvement of societies and economies.
SG: What do you see as the top impediments to robotics market penetration, particularly UGVs and UAVs?
RR: I actually think we need to take a step back and get a historic perspective of how people react to change. Back to the Stone Age, Bronze Age, Industrial Revolution and now the Information Age, there has always been some resistance to change. As with every revolution, there is resistance. Many people, including some very famous inventors and intellectuals, are afraid of automation. I personally believe their fears are unfounded.
At the end of the day, the Internet of Things cannot function by itself — it requires people. Robots look autonomous, but I don’t believe they will ever acquire the simple intuition and judgment that even a child has. I believe in augmented instead of artificial intelligence. If we can find ways to leverage the connection among people and machines, we can set the stage for improving lives around the globe. Initially, some jobs will be replaced, but I foresee the creation of entirely new job categories we haven’t even thought of yet, and new ways of building things.
SG: How can those challenges, or the challenges of any new technology, best be overcome?
RR: You overcome the challenge of acceptance by showing results. Show how you increased productivity. Show how you improve quality of life. It’s not just about technology for the sake of creating something new, it’s about how to improve the world.