Read the full article in Forbes.
People have been fascinated by robotics for a long time. It has been decades since little robot toys that sparked great curiosity in every child’s mind were created. But how close are we to bringing our robotics fantasies to life? And what is the impact it will have on our lives?
The last generation of robots was created to automate repetitive tasks in a controlled factory environment. This -- a natural progression from a conveyor belt -- was known as industrial automation. The robots gave us the ability to conduct difficult tasks with more consistency and accuracy.
But that did not suffice. We started working on autonomy. Autonomous robots can move in an open environment and can interact with the elements within that environment. Autonomy created a new generation of robotics with its own opportunities and challenges. Navigation, vision, object recognition, manipulation, obstacle avoidance, localization and many other changes have kept scientists busy. There have been strides and amazing discoveries made, and we now have autonomous and semi-autonomous robots that can run and jump, talk to us and even do a backflip. As we advance in the field of robotics, we enable our autonomous robots to conduct more complex, humanlike tasks. But how can we incorporate this into making our lives better?
Today, by far the biggest challenges facing roboticists are finding meaningful applications for the technology that has been developed and also making these applications financially feasible so that the general public can afford them.
We are back to the drawing board. We need a product that is marketable and feasible. Advanced robotics focuses on engineering and solving engineering challenges. The spinoff of this is a technology that can be used in other robots that have a chance to be mass commercialized. The IP generated in advanced robotics is extremely valuable to make robotics more marketable.
However, the most effective approach to commercializing autonomous robots is practical robotics. In practical robotics, a problem is identified first. This problem is usually a labor-intensive task in an industry that has a severe shortage of workers. One such industry is agriculture, which is facing a labor shortage. Other industries such as mining or construction expose workers to dangerous situations or materials that are harmful to the body.
Automation can help alleviate these issues. Once a practical application is identified with a big enough market, practical roboticists focus on using the technology at hand and adding more customization to create a solution for automating these tasks. Commercializing robotics helps in advancing the science of robotics. The advanced robotics engineers, without realizing it, are highly dependent on practical roboticists for their future survival.
I am sure by now you have felt that there is a gap between what robotic engineers strive to do and the commercialization of their work. So, what can be done in order to bridge this gap? First, bright minds should never be put into a tight framework. They should be able to experiment and create and solve challenges without considering the commercialization aspects of it. But then there should be people with high business acumen who understand technology and are involved with the R&D to create spinoffs from these wonderful engineering feats that lead to feasible commercial products.
The burden falls on the universities and companies that are working on advanced robotics to create this connection. There are numerous robotic platform companies that have software, hardware or robotic parts such as sensors and actuators, but there needs to be more communication between them and the practical world of robotics so that we can all start using the science to improve human lives.
Read the full article in Forbes.