Robot Revolution: Creating the Digital Manufacturing Human Pipeline

 |   Shelley Stern Grach

In February 2014, President Obama selected Chicago as the home for a first-of-its-kind, public/private “center for manufacturing innovation,” committing $70 million in federal dollars to the project. In addition, many corporations and businesses —including Microsoft — also made financial and other investments to this program. In the year-and-a-half since, UI Labs, the research and commercialization collaborative leading the charge, has shaped this grand initiative into a 94,000 square foot facility that will house two game-changing programs: the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute and CityWorks. We are now seeing that Chicago and the Midwest region are developing into a global hub for digital manufacturing on many levels. From the resurgence of Detroit to the recent opening of UI Labs Digital Manufacturing Institute at Goose Island, we are seeing accelerated interest and investment in digital manufacturing all around us.

With the amazing investments in manufacturing as a backdrop, I recently attended the opening of the world-premiere Robot Revolution exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago (MSI). This exhibit was several years in the making, and will be on a global tour after completing the inaugural showcase at MSI through January 2016.

Robot Revolution: Creating the Digital Manufacturing Human PipelineThe exhibit is highly interactive and provides lots of space for attendees to weave through the exhibits, and for younger attendees to run, touch and play. Among my favorites was PARO®, a soft-to-the-touch robot baby harp seal used as a comforting companion for people, especially in hospital settings where having a real animal might cause problems.

I also waxed nostalgic when I viewed a clip of the “I Love Lucy” candy factory production line. Portions of this classic scene were presented on video next to the FANUC M-1iA Delta Robot, an assembly line robot that selects and sorts items with much greater ease than Lucy and Ethel.

Robot Revolution: Creating the Digital Manufacturing Human Pipeline

However, what came to mind as we were enjoying the exhibit, was how perfectly timed this was for Chicago and the Midwest, as we correspondingly launch the focus on Digital Manufacturing. As we dodged the children following the robotic eye candy, and observed them
reach, touch and interrelate with their metallic counterparts, you could see the human/nonhuman distance between them dissolve, and imagine the exciting new world of global manufacturing. It struck me that THIS is another great example of how we build the STEM and STEAM pipelines in Chicago and the Midwest…by offering the marvels and accessibility of the new world of work, through play, stimulating interaction and tactical sensations.

Congratulations and THANK YOU to the Museum of Science and Industry staff, sponsors and partners who brought this wonderful exhibit to Chicago (first!), and for paving the way for our children to be excited, optimistic and energized about the future.

Robot Revolution: Creating the Digital Manufacturing Human Pipeline

To learn more about the Museum of Science and Industry, including their Robot Revolution exhibit, head to their website here.

To learn more about Microsoft’s commitment to youth and education, visit our YouthSpark Hub or follow us on twitter at @msftcitizenship.

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Shelley Stern Grach
Shelley Stern Grach

They say that great work stems from a combination of passion and commitment, something that Shelley certainly possesses when it comes to her life and career. She currently serves on the boards of the Women’s Business Development Center, the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, Thrive Chicago, Year Up and LISC Chicago. At Microsoft Chicago, she’s the Director of Civic Engagement, working at the intersection of computing and community, promoting STEM programs and using Microsoft technology to spur growth in the community. So no matter if it's work, play, or giving back, Shelley always makes sure her drive and professionalism help her complete her life's goals.