Servo Magazine (June 2017)
Wanted: Robotics Experimentalists — No Experience Necessary (or Desired)
It seems that every few months there’s renewed talk of robots taking over one job or another. Included are the usual suspects in the dull, dirty, and dangerous categories — from mining, search and rescue, and manufacturing to fire fighting — as well as the more nuanced areas of robotic surgery, self-driving helicopters and cars, and semi-autonomous planet rovers.
Despite all the talk and an occasional highly visible demo, there hasn’t been much in the way of deliverables. So, what’s the problem?
Technology is, of course, one limitation, as is funding for full development and deployment. But there’s more. There’s a lack of domain-specific leadership to champion the technology that will eventually replace human workers.
Not surprisingly, these champions rarely come from within the ranks. Think about it. Why would a factory line worker by day and robotics experimentalist by night work to build a robotic system to put himself and everyone he works with out of a job?
Granted, the experimentalist might have his or her goals set on leaving the day job, but then there’s the issue of being too close to the job. That is, it’s often the case that someone with years of experience at performing a task a specific way can’t see how to improve the process.
Simply automating a poor process is a recipe for failure. So, what’s the solution? Become the outsider that brings robotics expertise with a fresh take on the problem and no internal political complications.
I’m not suggesting that as a robotics experimentalist you should gloss over the problem area and shoot from the hip when it comes to robotics. You will need to study the problem domain intensely and bring your other work experiences to bear in formulating a practical robotics-based solution.
You’ll also have to interview workers and management. Present your solution to the stakeholders with something to gain from your invention — whether it’s the factory owner, insurance provider, mine operator, or city hall.
Will you make enemies in the process? Sure, if you’re successful. Will you change the world? Definitely! That’s the point, isn’t it? SV