Mapping Out the Next Robot Invasion

Robots -- everyone has probably been fascinated by the idea of robots at one time or another. From the early science fiction robots (such as Klaatu's robotGort) to the mid-1980s movie robots (likeJohnny 5), they have been portrayed in many different ways in fiction. These days, with the advent of computers, various kinds of robots have become a reality. In this blog post, the "robot invasion" we'll be mapping out is the proliferation of robots used in manufacturing (Sorry Doctor Who Cybermen fans -- it's not that kind of invasion! Maybe I'll work on that kind in a future blog post!)

But before we get to the data analytics, let's check out a random robot photo. I asked all my friends if they had made any robot photos I could use in my blog. I figured some of my textile/manufacturing buddies might come up with a robotic arm, or my computer-geek friends might have pictures of a human-like toy robot. But my favorite turned out to be Margie's robot necklace. LOL I guess robots have truly become ubiquitous when they're even used as jewelry. I take this as a sign that the invasion is almost complete!

Now, for some serious robot-talk! Below is the map that got me interested in this topic. It's a map that Brookings created, using International Federation of Robotics data. It was an interesting map that caught my attention, but as I studied it I noticed several problems:

  • By trying to represent two different things with the bubbles' size and color, neither of those things are represented well.
  • Since many of the bubbles overlap, many of them are obscured or blend in together.
  • The larger bubbles extend well outside of the MSAs they represent.
  • There is no easy way to determine the city name & data values for the bubbles.
  • And the legend/color levels seem a bit arbitrary (for example, the darkest legend color is labeled for 20+, but yet the two MSAs mapped to that color actually have values of 35+).

Although I like the idea of bubble maps in general, they just don't seem to work well in this particular case. So I decided to create my own map, using something other than bubbles.

After mulling it over a bit, I decided to go with a good old traditional choropleth map, where I color the whole metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs), rather than placing a colored bubble at the centroid of the MSA. I use quantile binning, so each color represents about 20% of the MSAs. And rather than trying to represent both pieces of data simultaneously, I create a separate map for each one.

First I created a map where the color represents the total number of industrial robots per MSA (this number was represented by the bubble size in the previous map). Click through this link to see the full map.

And next I created a map where the color represents the number of robots per 100,000 workers (this was the variable represented as the color, in the bubble map). I think this one is probably my favorite of my two maps. It seems to show an interesting geographical trend in the data. Click through this link to see the full version of this map.

You can through the links of both my maps above to see the interactive version with HTML mouse-over text that will allow you to see the MSA names and data values.

So, what's your opinion on robots? Are they taking away jobs (by replacing humans), or are they making factories more efficient and creating new/different jobs? Do you have any robot stories you'd like to share? :-)

This content was reposted from the SAS Learning Post. Go there to view the original.

Robert Allison, The Graph Guy!, SAS

Robert Allison has worked at SAS for more than 20 years and is perhaps the foremost expert in creating custom graphs using SAS/GRAPH. His educational background is in computer science, and he holds a BS, MS, and PhD from North Carolina State University. He is the author of several conference papers, has won a few graphic competitions, and has written a book calledSAS/GRAPH: Beyond the Basics.

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Re: Robots
  • 1/16/2018 10:21:06 AM

Tomsg writes

I hope in many ways robots are taking away jobs we would be better off not using humans for. ... If we can lift our view from the poor people losing jobs to automation and think of our race as a whole, I think robots are an important stepping stone in becoming a self- actualized race. I am sure over time we will find occupations that better suit ourselves. All disruptions tend to be bad at first.

Most (probably all) of us have been interacting with "robots" our entire lives, most likely without realizing it. The most immediate example that comes to mind is automatic elevators.

When I was a kid back in the early era of the formation of the Earth, it seemed that every elevator had one of those costly, inefficient humans operating it, usually via a control lever poking out of a sort of domelike device mounted on the elevator cabin wall. Yes, really (you can probably see this activity in certain films from the 1930s and 1940s). Whoever was staffing these elevator operator departments in those days seems to have had a particular predilection for cute young girls.

Cute or not, in any case all gone now, as their functions were replaced by automated technology. Robots in only a very clunky sense, but quite functional nevertheless, with a lot lower ongoing cost.

Another area where robots have been used for quite a while is public transportation. First of all, there are automated peoplemovers in most large urban airports. A more sophisticated expansion of robotic train operation is in rail rapid transit (metros, aka subways and elevated lines). Over the past couple of decades, virtually all new rapid transit lines have been totally automated. Also, fare collection has been automated. That means a lot of job losses for former train operators, ticket clerks, and other human personnel.

One last relevant point: Total automation of freight train operations (and I mean the freight trains, pulled by diesel locomotives, that virtually all of us encounter driving around our own cities and suburbs) is now being seriously considered and debated within the railroad industry. Needless to say, the idea is being vigorously opposed by rail worker unions.


Re: Robotics Represents Opportunity not a Threat.
  • 1/13/2018 11:05:53 PM

Thanks for the link to a truly insightful piece in the NY Times.   This association of displaced workers as a result of automation and it's affect on the politcal landscape had never been experienced as far as I can tell until the recent elections.  

Regardless of all of the other yet to be determined tactics used to secure Trump's nomination, it is clear that that there where those in his camp who understood that "low educated" white voters were the key.   They also understood most of the vote that supported Obama would more than likely not turn out in the numbers they had earlier.

This of course happened and the rest is almost history. 

There are a number of different angles the article takes and the slant ( which I intend to read further )  that maybe the most important factor outside of education was race. Looking at the current happenings in the oval office, one would not have to tread far to accept the fact that race and racism hold a major influence on Trumps popularity.

It will be interesting to see how history portrays this period, but I don't have time to wait for history to figure this out.


Thanks again Lyndon_Henry !

Re: Robotics Represents Opportunity not a Threat.
  • 1/11/2018 2:24:05 PM

Louis writes

Interesting to see visually where the most robotic activity takes place in the U.S.   I am not surprised to see the map expose those States where manufacturing is a staple.  While many might argue robots are/will take jobs, I think that is a mute point at this point.

 The issue is how does the individual adapt to this change ?  Well the answer has never changed - One must change.

Columnist Thomas B. Edsall has a very interesting analysis in today's New York Times with the revealing title Robots Can't Vote, but They Helped Elect Trump.

First, Edsall presents data visualizations graphically displaying the impact of robotic automation in U.S. industries. Significantly, his data show geographic impacts that closely parallel those in Robert's visualizations.

Second, Edsall's analysis partially answers the question raised by Louis:  "how does the individual adapt to this change ?" For many workers in these affected industries, adaptation meant embracing the political leadership of an authoritarian demagogue who spouted promises of a reversion to the past: "Make America Great Again".


Re: Robots
  • 9/4/2017 1:28:52 PM

A deep pocket allows for some freedom that the majority of us don't enjoy. Notably, an abundance of receptive ears that equate wealth with intellect. Not to say that Elon isn't a bright fellow but maybe he is being given too much benefit of the doubt here. I have no viable point of reference for a conclusion here, my pocket is on the shallow side.

Re: Robots
  • 9/4/2017 1:19:04 PM

in re "...Maybe Elon is speaking in a different language than the rest of us!"

He certainly thinks differently than the rest of us, no doubt aided by a billion-dollar bankroll that brings more ears -- and pocketbooks -- to the table when he talks about space travel, hyperloops and "neural lace" (physically linking our brains to computers).

Re: Robots
  • 9/1/2017 5:11:53 PM

@Lyndon_Henry I believe it!  A lot of what used to be science fiction is now actually in use. 

Re: Robots
  • 9/1/2017 4:47:15 PM


Ariella writes "... they do in science fiction."

I've noticed that in writing science fiction I can solve a lot of technological problems.


Re: Robots
  • 8/31/2017 10:56:40 PM

This is an ideal use of robots. I've considered the same approach. I wonder how we could accomplish such a thing... 

Re: Robots
  • 8/31/2017 9:21:08 AM

I would ideally like to see robots doing jobs that humans don't want to do or at least are low paying and folks have to do "hard" work for low pay. Now, what to do with the workers who have their jobs taken is another big problem to solve. Retraining? Shift them to a job where skills are not necessarily a burden but at least the work is not so demanding that it could be pleasant?

Re: Robots
  • 8/30/2017 7:07:34 PM

@Lyndon_Henry they do in science fiction.

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