Limping Along In Robot Land

A once hopeful U.S. industry goes awry

Once it was hailed as the ultimate manufacturing industry, an enterprise that would cut American labor costs, boost productivity and rack up as much as $4 billion in sales by 1990. Blue-chip giants stampeded to buy into the action; bankers panted to finance the heralded expansion. Optimism was seemingly unbounded for the U.S. robotics industry, which produced semi-intelligent machines that were expected to help American businesses compete with low-wage foreign rivals over the next two decades and to improve greatly the quality of American industrial production.

Well, that was five years ago. Rather than becoming the highly successful purveyor of tireless,...

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