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Current Challenges in Robotics

Samuel Bouchard
by Samuel Bouchard. Last updated on May 05, 2016 4:26 PM
Posted on Jun 18, 2007 4:02 PM. 2 min read time

robotics challenge

The World Technology Evaluation Center (WTEC) is an American organization that assesses the state of technologies around the world. Their studies can be funded by various American government bodies such as the NSF, NASA, DARPA, NIST, etc.

In our efforts to start up a robotics company, I examined one of their reports published in 2006, titled “International Assessment of Research and Development in Robotics.” This report was written by scientists specializing in the field. The visited and interviewed scientists from companies and research centres from a number of countries: the USA, Japan, South Korea, Australia and in Europe. The report describes the current state of robotics, compares the USA with the rest of the world (this was the purpose of the report), and discusses future challenges in robotics, which is of special interest to me:

  1. Robotic vehicles
  2. Space robotics
  3. Humanoids
  4. Industrial, personal and service robots
  5. Medical robotics and biological applications
  6. Robot networks

Though each of these fields have certain particularities, they also have a number of recurring themes:

  • Interaction with the real world. Robots will need to do more than observe the world around them. They will have to be able to grasp objects, handle them, build, repair, etc. For this, their mechanisms will have to improve jointly with their programming. They will have to better integrate information from an assortment of tactile, visual and other kinds of sensors.
  • Mobility and navigation. Whether it’s for a land, undersea or outer space vehicle, there are many challenges. The robot will have to be better able to know where it is and make decisions on which way to go to fulfill its assigned task. The methods currently being used must be improved for greater versatility and sturdiness.
  • Human-robot interaction. Robots are increasingly able to operate in non-structures environments. A reduction in available manpower and an increase in the number of people needing assistance will create a void in society that robots may fill. For this, they will have to cohabit and cooperate with humans, both safely and efficiently. For safety, major improvements are needed in both hardware and software. Interactions with robots will need to be achieved more naturally than by exclusively programming them. This will make robots accessible, and therefore more acceptable, to more people.
  • Component availability. As for any new field, robotic scientists are developing many components on spec. So that robots may become more accessible, some components (sensors, activators, even limbs, grippers, etc.) will become standard and will be mass-produced at low cost.

By the time I finished reading the document, I was more convinced than ever that robotics is at the cusp of prodigious growth. In fact, it has already begun. For one thing, changes in society are making robots desirable to more people. Meanwhile, the underlying technologies are getting mature. Just recently, we gave an iRobot Dirt Dog for Father’s Day. This is likely to be the first robot to make acquaintance with my Dad. Any bets his grandchildren won’t have to wait till they’re sixty to have a robot of their own?

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Samuel Bouchard
Written by Samuel Bouchard
Samuel is CEO and co-founder of Robotiq. His mission is to free human hands from repetitive tasks. He is also the author of Lean Robotics: A Guide to Making Robots Work in Your Factory. He lives in Québec City with his wife and four children.
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