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St. Louis Post-Dispatch from St. Louis, Missouri • Page 29

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St. Louis, Missouri
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29
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ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH TECHNOLOGY YOU WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 11, 1993 7C Move Over, Kids Nintendo Hoping To Hook Adults On Mario, Other Entertainment I I i I i ')' i Jy events, recreational and entertainment activities, as well as a service for ordering tickets. "We could be in many hundreds of thousands of hotel rooms in a fairly short time," the Nintendo executive said. Indeed, by the end of the first year, the company expects to be delivering the service to 20 million consumers. The new service combines digital communications technology with a special version of the popular 16-bit Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

1993, Reuters News Service NEW YORK Even though the video-game business tallies billions in revenue each year, its creators admit it's still just kid stuff. Kids are avid video-game players. But how do you get adults hooked? Nintendo of America Inc. has come up with a plan to do it by connecting bored travelers to Super Mario and his colleagues. mm It is the product of 18 months of research at the company's lab in Redmond, and will be made in the United States.

Nintendo officials say the system allows the company to offer the kind of interactive multimedia system that other technology companies are only talking about. For instance, the system for airplanes allows passengers to order a game or movie on a pay-per-view or pay-per-play 1 he Japanese video-game giant's U.S. unit will offer a broad range of entertainment services for use in airplanes, cruise ships, restaurants and hotel rooms the world over. Credit cards, not coins, will pay for using the machines anywhere but the living room or games arcade, where children already have a monopoly. "The real problem in this business has been making the games available to kids over 18." Nintendo Vice President could be in many hundreds of thousands of hotel rooms In a short time, ff PETER MAIN, Nintendo executive 0 y) the use of a Nintendo game in basis.

The offerings then appear on a video screen on the rear of the seat in front of the player. A control device is attached to a cord and stored in the side of the arm rest. The games cost $4 an hour. Movies beyond the typical free showing on most international flights are $6 apiece or, in package deals, two for $9 or three for $12. The cost of installation to the airline has been estimated at $4,000 a seat, including hardware and downtime for the aircraft.

Nintendo, the U.S. subsidiary of Japan's Nintendo Co. would share revenue from the systems but has declined to discuss specifics. The service already is available on one Northwest 747 and is scheduled to be installed on more than 20 planes by the end of the year. The service is also due to be installed on Peter Main quipped at a news conference.

Getting an older following is important for Nintendo because it hopes to sell more software and services for its huge installed base of machine owners. And one place to reach adults is on the road or out on the town. "Now, with a swipe of a credit card, a guy can try a game without a snotty clerk behind a counter telling him he's doing it wrong," Main said. The Nintendo Gateway System including video games, movies, audio compact discs, telephone and airline gate and baggage information has already been picked up by Northwest Airlines and LodgeNet, which provides entertainment to hotels and cruise ships. The system also offers a menu of information on restaurants, shopping, cultural and sporting Armond Williams a mock-up of an of Team Nintendo demonstrates airplane.

targeted consumer for the new system. Wider applications are expected with the growth of fiber optics and improvements in digital compression of video signals. planes owned by Virgin Atlantic and China Airlines and in hotels operated by Sheraton, Doubletree and Embassy Suite. Nintendo says the traveler is only the first Carmakers Iron Out Robot Wrinkles Building With Robots New Nissan Plant Is Eerily Efficient There are many reasons why the number of jobs in U.S. factories has continued to drop throughout the current economic recovery.

But automation, including the growing use of industrial robots, has contributed to making factories more efficient eliminating the need for some workers. LAWRENCE J. MAGID COMPUTER FILE Phone-Less Modem Works With Battery My computer is beeping at me because electronic messages are pouring in. That's nothing new I've long been communicating with others by using a modem to connect my PC to the phone system. But today I'm not near a phone.

I'm sitting at a picnic table in a public park with a one-pound, battery-operated wireless Mobidem modem from Ericsson GE (800-223-6336) connected to the serial port of my notebook PC. With the Mobidem, I'm able to send and receive electronic mail (e-mail) or to submit articles from outdoors, the back of a cab or just about anywhere else in the more than 200 U.S. metropolitan areas the system serves. The modem has a small antenna that transmits and receives data from ground-based radio antennas. To use the modem, you need an e-mail account with a wireless provider such as RadioMail (800-597-6245) of San Mateo, Calif.

The modem itself costs $775, and RadioMail is an additional $89 a month. That's not cheap, but there is no charge for incoming or outgoing messages. Like everything else, an increase in competition and technological developments should eventually drive down the price. Federal Express and other delivery services already have their own two-way wireless messaging systems. With the Mobidem-RadioMail package, even small companies could establish a two-way link between the office and people in the field.

I'm using RadioMail's MS-DOS software. The company also offers a connection for the Macintosh Power-Book and Hewlett Packard's handheld 95LX and 100LX one-pound "palm-top" computers. Ericsson sells a wireless e-mail kit for $995 that includes the Mobidem, an HP 95LX with e-mail software and a carrying case. The whole system weighs 3 pounds. In addition to being able to communicate with RadioMail users, I have access to more than 25 million other e-mail users because RadioMail is linked to Internet, a global network that connects just about all e-mail and on-line information services including CompuServe, MCI Mail, America Online and (soon) Prodigy.

The Internet also lets me communicate with people at thousands of companies, government agencies and universities. I can think of many situations when I've had to hunt around for a suitable way to connect my notebook PC to a phone line. Many hotels still don't offer modular jacks for modems or fax machines. And, except at airports, it's almost impossible to find a pay phone with a modular jack. I've used an acoustic coupler, such as the Konexx Coupler from Unlimited Systems Corp.

of San Diego, to connect my modem to the handset of regular phones, but that isn't 100 percent reliable. Besides, there are times when even a pay phone isn't available. This system would be great for emergency service workers to exchange messages from the field. Assuming the court didn't object, it could be used by attorneys from a courtroom. Reporters could save hassles and valuable minutes by using it to send in their stories from the scene of a fire or a baseball game.

1 can even envision the system being used in lieu of standard paging systems. I've been using the modem to transfer text files from my notebook to my desktop system. While on the road, I just e-mail the articles to my MCI Mail account and download them when I get home. There is another benefit to wireless e-mail. With public e-mail systems you don't know about any incoming messages until you have your modem dial in and log on.

That's not a problem for people who are connected to local area network-based e-mail systems at the office. Their machines usually beep to alert them to an incoming message. The same is true with RadioMail. Whether at home or on the road, I can keep my portable PC connected to the modem. Then, if someone sends me a message, I hear about it immediately.

As a result, I find myself using e-mail to carry on conversations. Someone will send me a message, I'll respond and, a minute or two later, I'll get another message. It saves on phone calls and, if the person has his or her system on, makes them immediately accessible. Of course, you're under no obligation to respond immediately, especially if you're driving a car or in an important meeting. Some people, however, are e-mail fanatics.

I recently got a message from someone who was driving over the George Washington Bridge from New York to New Jersey, which just goes to show that being on the cutting edge of technology doesn't necessarily mean that you have common sense. 1993, Los Angeles Times 35 25 i Unemployment in manufacturing in millions 20 88 "89 '90 '91 18 Ejj -L -A 16 Si7 SOURCE: International Federation of Robotics, Bureau of Labor Statistics But Machines Translate To Fewer Jobs By Norimitsu Onishi 1993, Knight-Ridder Newspapers DETROIT The afternoon coffee break is almost over, and Djon Micako-vic hurries back to join Lonnie Taylor on Chrysler's assembly line in Sterling Heights, Mich. As half-made cars start to inch along the line, Micakovic scrambles to put on his gloves. For more than five years, he and Taylor have installed rear windows on Dodge Shadows and Plymouth Sundances. Each grasping an end of a long steel bar with two powerful suction cups, the men pick up a window from a rack.

Stepping over the assembly line, Taylor walks over to the driver's side of the car, while Micakovic stays on the passenger side. They raise the bar and flip the window over the trunk and onto the releasing the suction cups. Placing a molding around the glass, they tap it into place with rubber hammers. Then, without stopping, Micakovic and Taylor start over 430 times a day. A few miles south, at a new Chrysler plant in Detroit, an 8-foot-tall, gleaming orange robot rises to life as a Jeep Grand Cherokee enters its area.

Using six suction cups, the machine snatches a windshield and, after a ballet of twisting and flexing, prepares to place it on the vehicle. With an eerie awareness, the robot searches for the right fit, draws back, pushes forth, hesitates, raises the glass an inch, and finally places the windshield onto the Jeep. It's a perfect fit every time. When the aging Sterling Heights factory is refurbished next year, it will get a similar robot to do Micakovic and Taylor's job. It's merely one example of how, after a bumpy start, the Big Three U.S.

automakers are finally benefiting from the labor-saving potential of computer-operated industrial robots. The R2D2 of "Star Wars" has become a stalwart presence on the factory floor. Machines Taking Over If one enduring image of the '80s was inept robots smashing windows and spray-painting one another instead of cars, the sight of aisle after aisle deserted by humans in today's plants may prove more startling and enduring. Over the past decade, robots have taken over entire areas of assembly plants, doing virtually all the welding and painting workers once performed. Pressured by Japanese rivals in a battle for global markets, U.S.

companies are pushing to automate final assembly tasks like window installation. What's inescapable is that fewer and fewer workers are needed to By David J. Morrow 1993, Knight-Ridder Newspapers KYUSHU, Japan Shigeharu Ohashi enjoys taking a stroll through his auto plant. Trouble is, sometimes he gets lonely. In a plant the size of 20 baseball fields, people are hard to spot.

In their place stands a seemingly endless line of synchronized robots that hammer cars together with the precision of dancers. This is Nissan's Kyushu No. 2 plant, a technological road map for what lies ahead for the auto industry. Ohashi, Nissan's regional services manager, is proud of the plant and knows it's the key to Nissan's survival. Battered by the recession, Japan's second-largest automaker is losing ground in its home country.

Months ago, Nissan became the first of its Japanese brethren to announce that it will close an assembly plant within two years. The Kyushu No. 2 plant, running at only 70 percent capacity, makes a car in 17 worker-hours. It is considered the most efficient plant in the world. At full steam, Kyushu should be able to build a car in 14 worker-hours or less a stunning feat in an industry that considers 20 hours a car to be fast.

The entire Kyushu complex can now produce 50,000 cars a month, 30,000 engines and 30,000 axles with about 5,800 workers. The No. 2 assembly plant, completed in April 1992, cost $910 million. Of that, $682.5 million went for the robotics system. Robots are the key to speed.

Some 400 stand alongside this revolutionary assembly line. Instead of being carried along by a constantly moving conveyor system, the cars ride on computer-controlled, motorized dollies that can stop and then roll ahead to the next work station when appropriate. This eliminates the constant Faced with a potentially explosive atmosphere among workers, the company forbade its managers from calling the robots "robots." In GM-speak the paint-shop robots became "numerically controlled painting machines." A Lighter Load But when robots took over many of the toughest tasks at most auto plants, most workers began to grudgingly accept the machines. At Buick City in Flint, for instance, 30 workers once toiled in the welding booths. Despite masks, fumes filled throats and lungs, and crank and groan of typical assem-bly lines.

It makes the plant much quieter and enables Ohashi to give tours without raising his voice. Twenty percent of final assem- a bly at Kyushu is automated, com- pared with about 5 percent at most Big Three plants. Robots install the engine, transmission, front and rear suspensions, tires, front and rear windshields, the battery and the front and rear seats. Kyushu No. 2 is 30 percent more productive than Kyushu No.

1 next door. Nissan plans to boost automation at final assembly to 30 percent within a couple of years, and it has already targeted the robots' next job. Currently, workers must remove the doors so that the seats can be mounted; in the future, robots will remove them and put them back on. A huge benefit of automation is flexibility. Today, every carmaker's goal is -to have plants that can switch quickly from making one car to another.

That way, if a car sells poorly, the company can use the plant and its workers to build other model. At Kyushu No. 2, Nissan can build four models from the Sen-. tra subcompact to the Pathfinder sport-utility vehicle, with eight variations. With Nissan's robotics, formally known as Intelligent Body Assembly System, simply a change in the computer program and minor tinkering with the mechanics allows the manufacture of different models.

In the past, the plant floor had to be overhauled, taking as long as a year. Nissan can now do a model swap in three months, and changeover costs have been sliced in half. And the robots help in recruiting, Ohashi said. "We can virtually guarantee a worker that he won't be doing the dirtiest work, and that makes our jobs here more attractive." welders often suffered burns and repetitive strain injuries. Now only two human beings work as welders, says Joe Beverley, supervisor of Buick City's body shop.

Beverley credits robots for lowering plant injuries by 95 percent over the past five years. The automakers also helped by changing their attitudes toward workers, says David Cole, director of the University of Michigan's Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation. Executives stopped talking about robots as a solution to their labor problems and started teaching their employees how to live and work alongside the new machines. Robots in U.S. manufacturing Knight-Ridder Tribune Where Are The Jobs? That's one of the reasons President Bill Clinton has called for an international conference this fall on job creation.

The conference will discuss how technology eliminates traditional factory jobs, especially those held by less-skilled workers, without generating opportunities for them. It recalls autoworkers' biggest question when the first robots started to join them on the assembly line 20 years ago: "Am I going to be replaced by a machine?" For many years, the answer they got from car companies was not reassuring. General Motors Corp. fired 350 people after introducing robots in 1972 at its assembly plant in Lords-town, Ohio. Angry workers smashed cars and robots during a bitter strike, but the machines stayed.

By 1982, a national recession and the popularity of Japanese cars had eroded GM's U.S. sales by more than 30 percent in just three years. Because employee wages at GM rose by 200 percent in the '70s while the cost of robots rose by a mere 40 percent, the automaker's response was predictable: Buy more robots. The number of GM robots grew from 302 in 1980 to 1,758 by April 1982. The same year, GM became an equal partner in GMFanuc Robotics a joint venture with one of Japan's leading robot manufacturers.

But robots didn't turn out to be the salvation GM had hoped for. The company bought automated systems from different manufacturers that did not work well together. And executives ignored warnings that a low-skilled work force was not prepared for this technological revolution. Many workers concluded that the companies had more faith in their expensive new machines than in their workers. What future did they have if the automakers didn't bother to train them to handle the new equipment? in thousands gj 88 '89 '90 '91 build cars and trucks.

Robots, coupled with other fundamental changes in mass production, have revolutionized the auto industry. As the industrial revolution displaced artisans and farmers a century ago, this revolution potentially carries similar social and economic repercussions. Although they initially fought the machines that were driving them from their factories, autoworkers have now come to an uneasy peace with the tin men in their midst. "If you work with them, you understand them. And if you understand them, there should be no problem," says Taylor, 62.

"What you do is rearrange your life to accommodate the changes. There's nothing you can do about it." Veteran workers may be pleased that robots are making their last years on the line easier. But their children, who had hoped to follow them into high-paying plants, will find companies needing fewer workers. In the past, those children could expect a new technology like robotics to spawn an industry that would provide them with jobs their parents never dreamed of. Indeed, when robots first arrived in U.S.

auto plants, workers were promised thousands of new jobs building the high-tech marvels. But the American robot industry has virtually collapsed, and two of every three robots being installed in U.S. factories now come from Japan. Uver the past decade, robots have taken over entire areas of assembly plants..

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