Is our fear of Robots Irrational? Three ways Robots can replace humans and three ways they can’t. 
When people think about robots, their brain conjures up the image of a 6ft, walking and talking metal object with laser eyes– these are called humanoids and they aren’t the type typically found in industry. Since their introduction, they have been perceived as vicious pieces of technologies with a vendetta against humans. Whether the fear is in response to their appearance or their intelligence, people believe robots are ‘’taking over’’.
As pieces of programmable machinery, industrial robots can be efficient at many things. Their development over the years has been all for the purpose of serving humans and making lives easier. They are highly efficient when carrying out three types of tasks: 
1. Predictable Work
Robots can take over predictable physical work, which includes repetitive, data based processes that can become tedious to human employees and often cause repetitive-movement injuries. Such processes include welding, chopping vegetables and assembly. Employing robots for these dreary jobs allow humans to move up the job-ladder and advance in their careers faster. 
2. High Payloads
Robots have extremely high payloads. They are ideal in handling and processing large products, which if handled by humans can cause injury. For example, handling of car parts or packaging and palletising finished products. 
3. Harmful Environments
Robots can work in hazardous and unfavourable environments. Let’s face it, humans do not want to work in -30°C temperatures or in dangerous chemical plants. The solution? Get a robot to do it and control them from the outside! 
On the other hand, like any piece of machinery, industrial robots have limitations. These include a range of abilities only humans possess, ones robots will never be able to achieve. Humans are irreplaceable, especially in these three ways: 
1. Problem Solving
Robots can be smart but they are only capable of so much; as in they can only solve problems which they have data for whereas humans can solve any problem with minimal data, especially in unfamiliar situations. 
2. Optimal Flexibility
Humans are still considered the most flexible species, whether it’s their ability to interpret information, both old and new, or their physical reach. For example, once a robot is used to build the metallic body of a car, a human is still needed to complete the wiring within the small crevices. 
3. Empathy
The third, and possibly most important human characteristic that robots can never possess is empathy. Naturally, humans are more expressive, they are caring, creative and vulnerable – emitting a sense of calmness to those surrounding them. Even the most intelligent robot cannot achieve this in certain jobs. For example, not all patients at the University of California’s hospital appreciate the Tug robot roaming the corridors delivering food trays and prescriptions. They were found to prefer the unique, expressive faces of the carers and nurses. 
Not only are humans unique, often industrial processes are too complicated or variable for robots to handle. It was found that whilst 78% of predictable physical jobs are fully automatable, only 25% of unpredictable physical jobs are fully automatable. Therefore, a large majority of industrial processes remain in the capable hands of humans. 
In our distinctive rule-based world, robots were given rules. Dubbed The Three Laws of Robotics, they were set by the creator of Robots, Isaac Asimov in 1942. They are: 
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. 
2. A robot must obey the order given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. 
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws. 
These laws apply to every robot ever created, whether it’s the little robot worming its way around feet to vacuum your carpets or the 54kg industrial robot cutting marshmallows at Boomf’s factory in London. 
It is appropriate to assume that combining human skills along with robot efficiency creates an unbeatable collaboration. Factories enlisting both robots and human employees find a higher production rate, reduced errors and waste, as well as higher quality products. In the near future, robots will become the norm in many industries and in everyday lives. So, are you keen on having a new robot co-worker? 
Fast Company. (2013). The Four Things People Can Still Do Better Than Computers. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Aug. 2017].
McKinsey & Company. (2017). Where machines could replace humans--and where they can’t (yet). [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Aug. 2017].
Simon, M. (2015). This Incredible Hospital Robot Is Saving Lives. Also, I Hate It. [online] WIRED. Available at: [Accessed 14 Aug. 2017].
Posted on 06 September 2017 By Farah Bader
Sustainability is Progress Not Regress
Tree huggers, sandal wearers and lentil eaters. These are the sort of stereotypes all too often associated with proponents of the sustainability movement. It seems that despite our continued learning regarding anthropogenic induced environmental impacts, there continues to be a fundamental misconception of what the sustainability movement is seeking to achieve. The main objective is to reduce these impacts as far as possible, it is not to revert back to more basic living.
There may be some truth in that life before the automobile, electric plug sockets and mass produced food resulted in fewer environmental impacts, but sustainability does not just focus on the environment, but also economic and social aspects. Therefore reducing CO2 generation at the expense of social welfare or economic strength does not fit well with what the movement seeks to achieve. 
The way in which we live and the products that surround us continues to advance. Smart phones, high performance composite materials and fast and accurate robotised manufacturing are some of the prevalent technologies and it would seem perverse to turn our back on these and go back to living basic lives. In any case, the majority of the global population now lives in densely populated cities where growing your own food and having open fires is not really an option. Instead we should be harnessing our technological knowhow to make products last longer, more adaptable for individual needs and trim off any inefficiencies from production, use and recovery of our goods. 
This is where the sustainability frontier is: in utilising our current strengths to improve the way we live our lives. Thankfully governments, businesses and even the general public are beginning to accept and embed sustainable thinking into their plans and activities. Research continues to support this movement with activities seeking to learn how to incorporate environmental considerations in the next industrial revolution (i.e. industry 4.0), better manage resources (energy, water & materials), improve consumption patterns and manage materials in a circular economy.
Sustainability is hell-bent on reducing our environmental impacts whilst maintaining or improving social and economic benefits. The most likely way that this can be achieved is by embracing technological advancements, not opposing them. Sustainability is about the future, not the past.
Posted on 13 July 2017 By Elliot Woolley
A closer look at ready meals in UK supermarkets
Time scarcity, accompanied by modest cooking skills, have obliged many people to accept convenience foods such as supermarket ready meals or fast and takeaway food as a part of their diet. In 2016, the value of the UK ‘food-to-go’ market was £16.1 billion, and this number is estimated to rise by 6.2% reaching £21.7 billion in 2021 indicating  significant growth. Despite its convenience, frequent consumption of prepared foods is associated with developing non-communicable diseases NCDs (e.g. obesity, type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers). Consequently, governmental bodies and research institutes have hastened their efforts to control food production and increase the awareness of diet-health related issues. A well-known example of this is the successful use of ‘traffic light’ labelling established in 2006 by the Food Standard Agency (FSA) that informs consumers about how the nutrient content of a specific food product relates to the governmental recommended daily intake. Another example is the formation of numerous campaigns aimed at raising awareness of the consequences of unhealthy diets and sedentary lifestyles such as Food4Thought and Change4life. These efforts did not only push fast food chains to add some healthy options to their menus, but also inspired the food industry to consider producing healthier convenience food products and making them readily available in supermarkets. 
Supermarket food products are generally trusted in Europe; in the UK for example, 44% of consumers believe that supermarkets provide all the products that lead to a healthy diet. Consumer trust is not only limited to the previous aspect, but it extends to the belief that these food stores are able to deliver personalised nutrition. A recent survey of 9381 European participants indicated that 17% prefer to get their personalised meals from supermarkets. Although this percentage came after family doctors (31%), dieticians (28%) and private health organisations (24%), it illustrates a remarkable confidence that supermarkets can be professional and scientific as specialised health care providers. It also illustrates the huge responsibility on supermarkets to keep up with their consumers’ expectations and increase their performance. 
In reality, UK supermarket strategies are continuously aiming to deliver healthier foods, either voluntarily to meet consumer demands or to comply with governmental targets and regulations. Nevertheless, delivering fresh healthy foods with extended shelf life can sometimes be very challenging from a sensory and technical point of view. These challenges are, for example, represented by lack of consumer acceptance of less salty soups, or outlined by shelf-life reduction due to a decreased amount of added sugar in a confectionary product. In spite of these facts, it is worth  mentioning that some considerations for healthy production can be simply and easily implemented without any challenges. 
Several recent surveys have investigated the nutritional quality of ready meals offered by UK supermarkets. A study found that a significant number of food products (38%) sold as ‘meals’ did not contain enough calories (<500 kcal) to constitute a proper meal. Another research on 100 chilled ready meals from three leading UK supermarkets found that none of the analysed meals complied with all World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations. Finally, a survey published in 2015 that looked into the nutritional profile of 166 ready meals from 41 food stores found that only 20% of those meals were low in fat, salt and sugar, including two-thirds of ‘healthier’ meals. This percentage even at 20% indicates that it is indeed feasible to sell healthy and tasty industrial food products.
At the moment, supermarket ready meals contribute to 7.4% of the ‘food to go’ market. Most current retailed meals need intensified research for controlling their nutrient composition, portion size and satiety effect, but evidence suggests that such achievements are possible if the demand is there. In the future, supermarkets will play a bigger role in supplying ready meals especially when methods of personalised nutrition and nutrigenomics are developed. 
Celnik, D, Gillespie, L, and Lean, MEJ (2012) Time-scarcity, ready-meals, ill-health and the obesity epidemic. Trends in Food Science & Technology, 27(1), 4–11. 
Howard, S, Adams, J and White, M (2012) Nutritional content of supermarket ready meals and recipes by television chefs in the United Kingdom: cross sectional study. British Medical Journal, 345, e7607.
IGD, press release (2016) IGD forecasts food-to-go to take bigger bite of UK grocery 
Lobstein, T, and Davies, S (2008) Defining and labelling “healthy” and “unhealthy” food. Public Health Nutrition, 12(3), 331-40.
Stewart-Knox, B J, Markovina, J, Rankin, A, Bunting, BP, Kuznesof, S, Fischer, ARH, van der Lans, IA, Poinhos, R, de Almeida, MDV, Panzone, L, Gibney, M and  Frewer, L J (2016). Making personalised nutrition the easy choice: Creating policies to break down the barriers and reap the benefits. Food Policy, 63, 134–44. 
Posted on 12 July 2017 By Rania Harastani