The Robots Are Coming- to a Redwood Coast Business near you

I hadn’t intended to write about robots today but seeing both the North Coast Journal’s  story about St. Joseph’s labor issues including the “doc-on-a-stick” AND The Economist’s survey of “robotic telepresence” in the workplace on the same day got my attention.

Briefly, St. Joe’s has apparently introduced the use of the “doc-on-a-stick” (described by the NCJ as a “video screen on a pole that a nurse wheels into  the patient’s room, so a doctor from afar can videoconference in to consult with a patient with the nurse’s help.”)  Normally, such a major change in procedures would call for “impact and implementation” bargaining between the employer and the union. The article, by the always excellent Heidi Walters, examines points of contention between labor and management at St. Joe’s and although this is the first time I’ve heard of robots being at issue in local labor relations, you may be assured it won’t be the last.

The survey published by the Economist in the March 9th issue was eye-opening, to me at least. I didn’t realize how inexpensive “robotic telepresence” is becoming.  RoboDynamics of Santa Monica introduced its TILR model in 2008 at $10,000, followed it with a $3000 model in January and is working on a 2015 model that will cost less than $1000. Robots are being used to extend a manager’s sphere of influence by enabling monitoring and meetings that would not otherwise be practical. They can facilitate real estate deals by allowing inspections remotely. They can enhance security, and cheaply. Xaxxon Technologies in Vancouver is selling a patrol bot that is essentially a laptop on wheels which runs on Skype and is controlled by a smartphone. It costs $290. I want one.

Security , however, is a two-way street. A ‘bot on patrol may be transmitting images which call for a firewall or other controls. Another issue is the effect on humans in the workplace who feel (with good cause) that they are being spied on. Future developments will be driven to some extent by the need to humanize the ‘bots, perhaps by adding limbs. Several companies are now marketing small machines that can zip around a floor or tabletop, carrying your smartphone and avoiding collisions. It’s happening.

I strongly recommend you read the full article. I have no doubt that somewhere in Humboldt County an inventor is pursuing this technology and new uses for it. We do, indeed, live in interesting times. Are you considering the use of ‘bots for your business? Let us know.



Two Humboldt County business groups you should know about

As the post-recession drags on and on, and budget politics gets more and more bizarre,  we can take heart from the fact that at least locally there are folks who actually are trying to do something constructive in the Humboldt community. Here are two such groups.

The Humboldt Bay Harbor Working Group was started during the recent update of the Prosperity program.  An enthusiastic group is meeting at the Samoa Cookhouse on the last Wednesday of each month at noon to share and promote ideas and projects to promote harbor-related employment.  The February meeting was attended by a group of about  forty.  About half of them were familiar from the old Citizens for Port/Rail Development, but there were a lot of new faces too, at least new to me,  We heard an update presentation by Dave Hull, who made the point that even if the current harbor plan is fully implemented, it would still impact only about 15% of the Humboldt Bay shoreline.

A word about the CPD.  Kaye Strickland, who organized and led the CPD meetings for many years, passed away in February shortly after her husband Bill,  and is sorely missed. Kaye and Bill had both been hospitalized and their passing was not unexpected, but that doesn’t make it any less sad. They were both very active in the community- Bill was on the old Zoo Advisory Board with me and Kaye was active in the League of Women Voters. The CPD suffered from a lack of structure but it was an invaluable group for anyone who wanted to stay on top of Harbor issues and if the new Working Group succeeds it will be because of the framework built by Kaye and the other CPD regulars. I was delighted to see Virginia Bass  at the February meeting as well as a host of folks who were never involved in the CPD, at least that I can remember, so it appears that the CPD will have a worthy successor.

PLEASE RSVP if you’re planning to attend this month’s meeting, to Susanna Munzell, so the folks at the Cookhouse can plan accordingly.

The second group you should be aware of is in its beginning phase, but they mean business.  This is the  Humboldt Inventors’ Club recently begun by Joseph Twohig , and meets on the second Thursday from 6:30 -8pm in the community room at the rear of The Meadows townhouses on Hubbard Lane in Eureka, between Myrtle Avenue and Harris, entrance directly across from the Myrtle Avenue Market parking lot. Joe states, “Suggestions for  topics and presentations most welcome” and some of the projects are startlingly original. You will be asked to sign a confidentiality agreement if you attend. Contact Joseph Twohig at (707) 267-0775 or

So there you have it: grass-roots activism and innovation. May the Year of the Snake bring inspiration to everyone struggling to make Humboldt  County a place where our kids will be able to live their lives out in prosperity , or at least make a decent living.