Where Is Robotics Heading? Perspectives From iRobot (Colin Angle), Stanley Black & Decker, And Robots In Service Of The Environment

Since the term robot was first coined in 1920, robots have become an increasing part of our lives. Companies looking to increasingly automate and enable greater portions of their business that require physical human labor currently look to robots to help or fully replace humans with many tasks. Additionally, robotics companies are also building robots for the consumer market as well. With robots increasingly being used in both professional and personal settings, where are we in the current state of robotics and where is the robotics industry heading?

Many forward thinking companies are using robotics

Increasingly, a number of companies are turning to robotics to help with many human centered tasks. These robots either are there to augment their human counterparts or fully replace them at certain tasks. Physical robots are highly desired in many industries, especially to perform tasks often referred to as the four “D’s”: Dirty, Dangerous, Dear (or Expensive), and Dull (or Demeaning). These robots operate every day in manufacturing, warehouse, health care, and other situations to perform the tasks that would otherwise be performed by humans with not always positive outcomes.

Stanley Black & Decker is well-known for their innovative tools for construction and building, but you may not be aware that the company also has a future-looking innovation lab that focuses in other areas of development. The company has primarily been known for things such as knives, drill bits, tape measures and other hardware and tools. However over the last several years the company’s focus has been on how it can use AI to improve their software, the types of products that they are developing for their customers, and how to make those things work smarter and more efficiently.

For Stanley Black & Decker, AI and robots and other developmental technologies are increasingly being used and incorporated into various design, manufacturing, and related functions at the company. Just like with other industries the company is finding these robots are not replacing jobs, but they are helping workers to use their time more wisely. By having robots perform some of the menial labor, human workers are freed up to perform higher level tasks and add value to the products they’re creating.

For forward thinking organizations like Stanley Black & Decker the use of robotics can be seen as a strategic advantage. By identifying opportunities where robotics can be applied, operational efficiencies, benefits, and ROI will be achieved. Robots will help decrease costs, improve safety, and overall enhance operations. Embracing robotics and disruptive technologies will help improve and enhance manufacturing as well as shift the way the company designs and validates. From the Stanley Black & Decker perspective, at least, robotics is core to their long term strategy, and we’ll be seeing more robotics in our day-to-day lives.

Robots going underwater

While many focus on robots above ground, some companies, organizations, and non-profits are bringing robots to the seas. Robots in Service of the Environment (RSE) is developing robots that are able to operate in water to help safely capture invasive species. By bringing augmented intelligence systems and robotics to harsh environments, such as those underwater, we can gain capabilities that would otherwise be too dangerous for humans.

In one particular application, RSE is focused on the challenge of invasive Lionfish. Lionfish are known to be a very invasive fish that quickly eat young reef fish and have no natural predators in waters where they are not indeginous. Although divers could easily kill these invasive fish with spear guns at less than 100ft down, RSE wanted to see if robotics solutions that could operate underwater would be a better solution. Creating scalable and affordable robots is a key driver for RSE. The company has already had a few iterations of their underwater robots, iterating and improving with each new robot. Right now, the process for capturing lionfish is very much human centric, with humans above water remoting controlling and operating the robot. However, the plan is for future versions to self-identify the lionfish to limit the need for human interaction.

RSE’s mission is to apply robotic technology to solve large-scale environmental challenges and to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers through our efforts. While the underwater robot is their first robot in deployment, RSE is also focused on developing robots to solve today’s environmental problems as well as inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers. For them, the future looks promising and by getting folks involved in this process and raising awareness of environmental issues, they hope to inspire the next generation. From the RSE perspective, we’ll be seeing robotics applied increasingly to more challenging environments and providing more value where humans are just not capable. If we can put rovers on Mars, then we can put robots to work under the sea.

Moving into the Golden Age of Robotics

For the past few decades, robots and autonomous machines have been making their way into our homes. The idea of Rosie from the Jetsons TV show, a robot that can talk, cook, clean, and interact with humans is still not realized. However robots and autonomous machines that can perform certain narrow tasks are a reality. We now have vacuums that can self navigate through rooms, lawn mowers that can automatically navigate your yard and cut your grass, cars that are getting ever closer to fully autonomous driving, and other machines that can perform certain functions.

Colin Angle, Chairman, CEO and Founder of iRobot believes we are on the cusp of the golden age of robotics. In order to move into this golden age and move past automation to robots and machines that are truly intelligent, three steps need to be achieved. First, robots need to become more responsive. Instead of robots being programming to simply perform a task, robots need to actually understand their environment and respond accordingly. Second, robots must be more collaborative. To accomplish this we must broaden the awareness and understanding of the robot beyond its immediate environment. It needs to also collaborate with people and other robots as well. While we have collaborative robots already, the vast majority of robots would not be considered in this category. Third, is that in order to have robots be truly intelligence, they must act as part of a larger system. For example, when robots can understand their surroundings and environment they can interact and operate with other robots and devices in your house to create a true ecosystem rather than a bunch of disparate systems.

While many companies are increasing building and adopting robotics into various parts of their workflows, and consumers have welcomed robots into their homes to help with various chores and tasks, the need for intelligent robots continues. Creating robots can be a very costly venture, and unfortunately some robotics companies have not been able to stay in business. However there is much innovation still to be had and the robotics industry isn’t going away anytime soon. Many companies and non-profits are finding increasing value from bringing robots into their various operations. As the ROI continues to be shown, additional companies will continue to invest in robots. At some point, hopefully in the near future, intelligent robots will become mainstream and a true robotics revolution will emerge.

Source: Where Is Robotics Heading? Perspectives From iRobot (Colin Angle), Stanley Black & Decker, And Robots In Service Of The Environment

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  • Thanks so much for the blog post.

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