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December 18, 2011, A student looking for an internship

I received an email from a student at the University of Cape Town. He writes well, seems genuine and is looking for an internship. His CV is strong. I'm sure he'll be happy to send it to you. Here's what he wrote.

"My fields of interest include, amongst other things, automation, CIM systems, complex digital systems, Artificial and Computational Intelligence, automotive control technologies and general data planning and co-ordination of complex systems. My degree programme is in Mechatronics – it's a hybrid branch of engineering, a mix between electrical and mechanical engineering. It differs from the Electro-mechanical degree by focusing more on the electronic control, design and automation of systems."

Send an email (frxchr011@myuct.ac.za)

November 20, 2011, A nice site with information about robotics

Here is a permanent, updatable repository and invaluable resource for all robotics enthusiasts. It includes information from labs at MIT, Oxford, ANU, Cambridge, and many German, Canadian and Asian Universities. You could spend some very-interesting months going through the site. It's called expo21xx. I suppose that's because it will be beyond the year 2100 before we have robots anywhere near the intelligence of humans.

I looked at the page from Osaka University. It talks about the "uncanny valley." My son first told me about this concept. We are all fine with automation, until it gets too human-like. I've asked the question many times: why build an artificial human? There are plenty of humans around.

October 29, 2011, I love questions from kids

Hello Dr. Hooper!

Obviously I am planning on being a robotic engineer. I know you get many emails on this subject so I hope I won't trouble you by asking some questions. Because I am in 6th grade some of my peers think that it is a far-fetched idea, however they don't doubt I could do it since me along with my best rival are in gifted and talented. I at first wanted to be a scientist, than I read about robotic engineering, I just would like to know how much of a difference is there between a robotic engineer and a scientist? And also what subjects must I major in besides math and science? Can I study to be both? 
Thanks for your time and I hope I hear back from you soon!

Hello young student whose name has been redacted:

I would say the greatest difference between engineers and scientists is that engineers are working on problems that need to be solved in the next year or two and scientists are working on problems to be solved in the next decade or two (or maybe century or two).

As far as choices of classes, study what you enjoy and let the rest take care of itself.

Good luck,

October 25, 2011, IBM's Watson

I've been meaning to write about the Watson computer on Jeopardy ever since I watched the shows, but am just now getting to it. Most folks commenting on the show fell all over themselves marveling at the accomplishment, but frankly I wasn't impressed. It's true that Jeopardy questions are often nuanced and contain subtle hints, but when the computer has encyclopedic knowledge, the nuance and subtleties don’t matter. The computer just looks up the answers. Really? IBM spent a reported $1 billion developing a huge encyclopedia that could understand English? This is nowhere near human intelligence and really demonstrates how far away we are from developing artificial intelligence. As I’ve written before, I don’t believe there is a path from digital computers to human intelligence and here’s why. Watson had 90 processors with about 1.2 billion electrical connections per processor. That gives a total of 108 billion connections and the human brain has about 100 trillion connections. While it is possible, and even likely, that computers with 100 trillion connections will be developed during the next decade; that doesn’t mean that these computers will have the capabilities of the human brain. This is because connections in digital computers are binary. The connections in the human brain are more like analog signals. They are electro-chemical and involve firing rate. If we assume the resolution of a connection in a human brain is 10 bits, then we would need a computer with ten to the power of ninety transistors! The sun is going to burn out before that happens.

July 2, 2011, Mobile Robot Job Opportunity

Gibbs & Cox, Inc. is one of the nation’s leading independent naval architecture, marine engineering and design firms. We are seeking a well-qualified individual for a position as a Senior Robotics Engineer: The Senior Robotics Engineer should have a PhD degree in Robotics or Mechanical PhD with specialization in robotics. Degree should be from an accredited college or university and a target of ten years experience in the development of mobile robotics systems. Demonstrated knowledge and application of perception and artificial intelligence is desired.

Contact - lepstein@gibbscox.com

April 26, 2011, Another very interesting job opportunity 

MaryJane Dow | Technical Sourcer | Intuitive Surgical, Inc. 
1266 Kifer Road, Bldg. 103 Sunnyvale, CA 94086

Mechanical Engineer – 437391 - TR
Job Location: Sunnyvale, CA 

Primary Function:
This position will play an important technical role during the rapid production of a novel new surgical robot instrumentation. The senior engineer will be expected to work as a key member of a team that quickly conceptualizes new mechanical designs, develops them, and brings them to market. The engineer will play a lead role in the design and development of new surgical instruments and accessories, as well as interfacing with manufacturing to facilitate manufacturing process development. The successful candidate must excel in a high-energy team environment and be capable of making sound decisions when faced with the time pressures and incomplete information typical of new product development. 

Roles and Responsibilities:
This position has responsibility and authority for: 

· Gathering, interpreting and organizing clinical customer input for new designs 
· Generation, design and development of new device concepts focused on those needs 
· Concept documentation, preparation and review of patent submissions, and support for regulatory submissions 
· Detailed prototype design, build, test, and iteration 
· Design for cost and manufacturability 
· Generation of formal design documentation, review, and control (e.g. design reviews, ECOs, mechanical drawings, etc.) 
· Project planning and management 
· Vendor selection and management 
· Manufacturing transition and support 

Competency Requirements 
Competency is based on: education, training, skills and experience. In order to adequately perform the responsibilities of this position the individual must:

Skill/Job Requirements: 
· Masters degree in ME, or PhD 
· An industry-wide reputation for design excellence and rapid product development 
· Passion for creating robust and reliable products 
· Demonstrated history of products reaching the marketplace 
· At least eight (8) years experience with mechanism design, including medical device design experience 
· Minimum two (2) years experience bringing medical products to market 
· At least three (3) years experience leading projects 
· Experience leading small engineering teams and mentoring other engineers 
· Knowledge of ISO requirements and GMP guidelines. Experience with FDA regulations and medical device design control a strong plus 
· Proficient in solid modeling, SolidWorks preferred 
· Familiarity with sterilization processes and designing for sterilization 
· Working knowledge of small part assembly and manufacture 

March 26, 2011, 

This looks like a super-interesting job opportunity.

Dear Dr. Hooper,

I am a recruiter for the Wyss Institute@Harvard in Boston, MA and came across your blog. I was wondering if you would have any interest in posting a job opportunity I have open at the Wyss to your blog and if you knew of anyone who might be interested. Here are the details to the position:

Lead Senior Staff Engineer - Bioinspired Robotics

Duties & Responsibilities: The mission of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University is to transform human healthcare and the environment by emulating the way nature builds. Developed as an alliance between Harvard and other premier academic and clinical partner institutions, Institute faculty and staff collaborate in high-risk, fundamental research and science-driven technology development. A major focus of the Institute is to translate the technologies developed by its faculty and staff into commercial products and therapies through collaborations with clinical investigators and establishment of corporate alliances. For more information, visit: http://wyss.harvard.edu/.

The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University seeks a talented, enthusiastic and experienced individual to work as a Lead Senior Staff Engineer in the area of bioinspired robotics. This person will report to the Operations Director and will assist and enable Wyss Institute faculty and researchers in their research and development efforts in robotics, while leading efforts within the Institute’s Bionspired Robotics Platform. Topics in bioinspired robotics include, but are not limited to, autonomous robots, collective operation, microrobots, and soft robots. He/she will initiate, direct, and perform independent research and work with Institute faculty in the creation and execution of research programs and projects in bioinspired robotics. The successful candidate will develop technology plans for Wyss robotics research programs, coordinate resources, and champion technology translation.

The Lead Senior Staff Engineer will take a leadership role in developing industrial relationships and outreach to generate feedback that will guide the research and development efforts at the Institute. The successful candidate will participate meaningfully in the academic community, helping to define and create the technology culture at Wyss and serving as a mentor for other senior and junior staff, fellows, postdocs, and students. He/she will participate in the development of strategic plans for Wyss research programs; and in writing research proposals, patent applications, presentations and publications. He/ she will provide guidance and management for prototype development in the bioinspired robotics area and guide applied research primarily focused on achieving commercial proof-of-concept and demonstration of commercial viability. In addition, the Lead Senior Staff Scientist will participate in the selection and management of core and specialized equipment, capabilities and technologies within the Institute to facilitate the Institute’s research and product development efforts. He/she will provide leadership and expertise to research personnel regarding project goals and objectives, as well as Wyss Institute community building efforts around robotics including seminar series and short courses.

Basic Qualifications: PhD in Mechanical or Electrical Engineering or Computer Science or work equivalent with a specific focus on a high risk area of robotics is required. Minimum 7 years of industrial experience in robotics is absolutely necessary. Strong foundation micro and macro fabrication, sensors and actuators, controls (theoretical and applied), materials mechanics, fluids is required.

Additional Qualifications: Strong organizational skills, creativity, motivation, and communication (oral and written) skills, especially ability to work and communicate with non-chemists are required. Experience with grant writing, sponsored research, and project management is essential. Ability to tackle multiple projects simultaneously in a dynamic team environment is essential. Must be able to work in chemical and biological laboratory environments. Ability to assess potential market opportunities and risks and to develop strategic plans for successful technology transfer and commercialization is required. Excellent writing skills and strong commitment to educating and mentoring students and postdoctoral fellows are required.

Interested applicants can please apply directly to our website: www.employment.harvard.edu (please search on Auto Req ID 22597).

February 19, 2010, 

Incoming email. The question is longer than the answer.

Q.  A few of us at work have been debating a few obstacles in robotic engineering and what is going to be the most difficult to do. We would really appreciate your insight and thoughts on the matter being a reputable Robotics Engineer with a PhD. On one side people think that movement & Hi is going to be the most difficult in creating humanoid robots. They think that dealing with a constantly changing environment, wind, obstacles and getting pushed or bumped even falling over and getting back up is currently the most difficult hurdle to overcome. On the other side people think that being able to visually identify objects the way humans do and to completely understand all of its surrounding and what’s going on will be the most difficult. This would require a robot to not only be able to see and identify objects around him extremely quickly but be able to learn, think and have common sense like a human as well. Since you are a Robotics Engineer we thought you could help us with something that’s been an ongoing debate for quite some time now. We are all very interested in the topic and are excited to hear back from you. Any help you can provide is much appreciated!!

A. Matching the complexity of the human brain is the real challenge. Whether you call it dealing with uncertainty or pattern recognition is just a matter of words. I'm very confident that digital computers will never replicate human understanding. The math is clear. Take a look at a couple of the posts from November of last year below.

February 6, 2010, 

A few questions from some smart eight year olds in East LA.

Let's start with the word “robot.” Karel Capek coined it in his 1921 play Rossum's Universal Robots. The word robota literally means work, labor or serf labor, and figuratively "drudgery" or "hard work" in Czech and many Slavic languages. Traditionally the robota was the work period a serf had to give for his lord, typically 6 months of the year (definition from Wikipedia). These robots were artificial people made in factories. They had no souls and hence could be enslaved without trouble to their creator’s human conscience. Ultimately they rose to destroy their human makers and eventually became extinct because there was no one left to make them. Isaac Asimov’s “I, Robot” series is my favorite exploration of the robots of science fiction. Susan Calvin is the star of the series. She is a human psychologist studying robots.

The definition of robots as manufactured humans persisted until the mid 1950’s when Joseph Engleberger called a machine he was trying to sell into the automobile industry a robot because the name sounded cool. Since then the word has been used to describe just about any computer-controlled, electro-mechanical machine. Note Capek’s robots were biological creations; androids, rather than robots. For now, let’s just call things made by humans that do the kind of work humans do a robot. Hmm, that definition includes my kids. Let’s go with machines that do the kind of work humans do.

Q. In what year will robots be able to talk and look like humans? (I think here we're thinking of androids in science fiction movies and how far off they might be.)
A. It won’t be in our lifetimes, our children’s lifetimes or their children’s lifetimes. The computers we’re using now will never replicate the human mind. Today’s computers are binary in nature, ones and zeros. It doesn’t matter how many mega bytes they have, our brains are infinitely more complex than that.

Q. When will we have robots that can cook?
A. We’ve already got them. Haven’t you ever seen a bread-making machine? What about the instant mac and cheese in the microwave?

Q. When will we have robots that can do our homework?
A. They’re called Mom and Dad. Anyways, would a robot doing your homework help you learn? Maybe.

Q. Why do we make robots?
A. So the robots can do the drudgery and we can spend our time doing more important things; like writing, the arts and watching the Superbowl!

Q. How long can robots live?
A. By definition robots don’t have souls and are never really alive. Their nuts and bolts can last a few decades before they go into the scrap heap.

Q. What does a robot run on? (e.g. batteries, some other power source?)
A. Robots usually run on electricity. Sometimes gasoline engines power them. Ultimately, just about all of the energy we (humans and robots) use comes from burning things like oil, coal, gas or wood.

November 26, 2009, 

Computer simulates cat brain, Not!

A week or two ago IBM announced they had simulated a cat's brain using one of their super computers. The facts in their announcement are correct, but the conclusion is completely wrong. The fundamental mistake was that they simulated a neuron as a single point digital connection. The connections in a mammalian brain are far more complex than that. Each connection involves ion channels, multiple branches, electro-chemical interactions, and on and on. To quote Henry Markram's (the lead on the EPFL Blue Brain project) opinion on IBM's simulation, "These are point neurons (missing 99.999% of the brain; no branches; no detailed ion channels; the simplest possible equation you can imagine to simulate a neuron, totally trivial synapses; and using the STDP learning rule I discovered in this way is also is a joke). He wrote this in an open letter to the respected IEEE. I encourage you to read his letter. You can also take a look at my post below. To reiterate, there is no path from digital computers to the complexity of the human brain.

November 10, 2009, 

How long before Star Wars robots?

Here's a rare article that talks about how far away we are from having robots with human-like capabilities, rather than how close we are to that day. I definitely agree with the article. I don’t think we’ll see robots with anything like human reasoning this century or that we’ll necessarily ever see it. People who do say we’ll have robots with brains as powerful as humans generally base their argument on Moore’s law. Moore’s law says that the number of transistors on a computer processor doubles every two years. I have two issues with this line of reasoning. First, there is no guarantee that Moore’s law will continue to hold. It’s not a real law, like the law of gravity. It’s just based on an observation by Intel co-founder, Gordon Moore. Second, the interconnections in human brains are much more complex than binary computer connections. The connections in human brains are electro-chemical and involve firing rates. This makes them more like analog signals than digital signals. If we assume the resolution of a connection in a human brain is 10 bits and use a common estimate of 100 trillion connections in a human brain, then we would need a computer with ten to the power of ninety transistors! Even if Moore’s law did hold true, it predicts the Sun will burn out before we have a digital computer with the power of a human brain. Basically there is no path from digital computers to the complexity of the human brain.

June 10, 2009, RoboGames is only a few days away!

This Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, the world's largest robot show returns
to San Francisco! Hundreds of robots from around the world competing in
over 50 different events. Giant fighting robots, agile acrobatic androids,
intelligent Legos, soccer bots, and much, much more:

"Top 10 Video Highlights" - ESPN SportsCenter
"The Best Ten North American Geek Fests" - Wired
"The best robots compete in RoboGames, just as the best athletes train for
the Olympics." - Discover
"World’s Largest Robot Competition" - Guinness Book of Records

Still cheaper than a Giants game, and hey - we got androids, not steroids!
Friday, Saturday, or Sunday - $20 a day or $55 for all three. Discounted
tickets for kids, as always. Buy your tickets today!

Fri-Sun, June 12-14, 2009 at Ft. Mason Festival Pavilion.
$20/adult, $15/kids

How would you like to build a robot with your kids? The new Robotis Ollo
kits let you do just that! Each day, Robotis will be running 3 workshops
to teach you how to build small robots and compete them! There are 3
workshops each day, with only a limited number of people per workshop.
Each team is good for one adult and one child.

Ollo Action kits are only $29.95, including the workshop and competition.
Sessions are at 12 and 2pm each day.

Ollo Bug kits are $99 which includes the workshop, two free drinks, and the
competition. Sessions are at 4pm each day.

To reserve a space for the Ollo workshop, and build your own robot that you
get to take home, please email dave@robogames.net Please include which day
and session you're interested in.

RoboGames is still an all-volunteer effort. We need your generosity in
order to continue. We realize that the current economy sucks, but anything
you can contribute will help to make this year great, and next year even
better! If you can't donate - email us to find out how you can volunteer
and help out - we need people both at the event, and leading up to it (as
in: now...)

May 25, 2009, More government funding for robotics?

Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) is looking to increase government funding for robotics.


Of course I'm a supporter of robotics, but this spending is getting out of hand. Printing infinite money will eventually catch up with us.

May 20, 2009, Robots in movies sampler

From Marie in the 1927 silent movie classic "Metropolis" to the Terminator franchise, 

 has a nice overview of movie robots through the years.

January 24, 2009, "Glazed" a painting by Eric Joyner

Take a look at Eric's website and consider buying some prints or a book or something else cool there.

December 13, 2008, Dancing Robots

Robots in the new Motoman Robotics Lab gave a "command" performance Nov. 21 to celebrate their new home.

Dancing robots, directed by a master robot, performed to the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies," the opening to Star Wars and "Mr. Roboto" to celebrate the dedication of the Motoman Robotics Lab at the University of Dayton, Friday, Nov. 21.

In addition to enhancing the arts scene, the new robots will provide academic and research benefits to Ohio. The new lab could enhance Ohio manufacturing capabilities and provide opportunities for Ohio industry to partner with UD to research new ideas.

Two Ohio companies — SAS Automation and Motoman — already have made investments and contributions to the University valued by the companies at more than $500,000.

UD President Daniel J. Curran, Joseph Saliba, interim UD provost; Don Moon, chair of UD's electrical and computer engineering department; Steve Barhorst, Motoman president; and Trent Fisher, SAS Automation president, spoke during the dedication in Kettering Labs Room 232.

April 12, 2008, Terminator Series Review

First of all, I give a "two thumbs up" to the Terminator TV series. That's no small endorsement as I have very high expectations for the Terminator line (including the movies). The time travel stuff is always fun, but of course it's the robotics that I like. Unfortunately, we know what it is like when humans lack morality. This series explores super-humans with no morality. To all future roboticists: Please program Asimov's three laws into your creations.

Jan 25, 2008, Robot Learning

As mentioned below, only a fifth of the cost of deploying a robot on a factory floor is the cost of the robot itself. The rest of the cost is programming the robot, developing the tools and developing the manufacturing processes. A company called Skilligent is working to reduce the cost of programming the robot. They announced the commercial release of a robot learning software. The main concept behind the software is that it can learn skills directly from humans without programming. This opens the door for building robots that don’t require traditional programming as they can be trained “out-of-the-box” by a non-professional user.

Jan 3, 2008, Indian robots toil on global shop floors

Lower labor cost is the reason often cited for off-shoring manufacturing jobs. So why would it be cheaper to use robots in India than in the USA? It's because only a fifth of the cost of deploying the robot is the cost of the robot itself. The rest of the cost is programming the robot, developing the tools and developing the manufacturing processes. It will be a long time before we automate that part of the equation.

November 28, 2007, University Programs in Robotics

Q. My students in Middle School would like to know about the list of universities that offer programs in robotics that you are compiling. Can you share what you already have? I don't want them to email strangers on their own. Thanks.

A. The term robotics has become so broad that it now applies to just about any electro-mechanical system. I think every University in the country that has an undergraduate engineering program also does something in robotics. 

Here are some schools that have graduate programs in robotics: MIT, Stanford, CMU, UTexas Austin, UTexas Arlington, UFlorida, UMichigam, UTennessee, USC, UWashington, UHawaii and Georgia Tech. I'm sure there are many more.

Your students might like to read Rossum's Universal Robots by the Czech writer Capek. That's where the word robot comes from.

October 22, 2007,  I can't resist a plug for my Alma Mater

A team of faculty and students from Rice and Freie Universität Berlin researchers hopes to vie this November for the $2 million prize in the prestigious international robotics competition "Urban Challenge," sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).


August 30, 2007,  University Robotics Programs

I'm compiling a list of Universities that offer programs in robotics or mechatronics. I'd appreciate any input to help with the list. email Rich

August 1, 2007,  Robotics Job Opening


We have a client in the Automobile industry who is seeking several
candidates for the following position: Paint Robotics Technicians
Anyone who'd like to apply can e-mail their resume to me at ...

See the learn about robotics jobs page for more information.


April 18, 2007,  Robot Bill of Rights?

A robot bill of rights  is as silly an idea as I've heard in a while. The robots we are envisioning for at least the next 50 years are computer-controlled electro-mechanical systems. These machines deserve no more rights than vacuum cleaners. We'll treat these robots a lot like cars. They'll be expensive so we'll insure them. As they get older and older they'll be worth less and less. Eventually the robot will break or be damaged so much that it won't be worth fixing. Then it will be off to the junk yard. Robots with any sort of self-awareness on the level deserving of rights aren't even on the drawing board yet. Fruit flies with less than twenty neural connections can fly, avoid obstacles, find food and mate (however it is that fruit flies mate). Fruit flies deserve a bill of rights more than robots do. My opinion is that robot "brains" made of computational machinery that transmit only electrical or optical signals will never achieve self-awareness or be deserving of rights. 

Beyond 50 years out we might start seeing androids that take advantage of chemical transmitters in their "brains" for a computational architecture that is orders-of-magnitude more sophisticated than the computers we have now. Even more interesting would be rights for cyborgs that combine biology with electro-mechanical systems. I can easily imagine an electro-mechanical dog with a real-dog's brain transplanted into it. What sort of rights would that have?

March 18, 2007,  Who is really thinking about robots these days?

I had an interesting phone call the other day with a writer for the New York Times magazine. He was wondering where innovation in robotics was taking place and mentioned the Darpa Grand Challenge as a point of interest. I think the Darpa Grand Challenge promotes a great deal of engineering innovation, but robotics innovation? The challenge is everything but grand. A common ant can get around by itself. Ants identify targets, work cooperatively with other ants, find food and mate. That's infinitely more than any of the vehicles in the Darpa Grand Challenge. My opinion is the Darpa Grand Challenge vehicles are far below common ants in robotic achievement.

So who really is innovating and thinking about robots these days? Are there still people thinking  on the level of Huxley, Asimov or Capek?

March 2, 2007,  Do you have any experience making androids? Email question

I don't have any experience making androids. I do have some experience making humanoids. They are usually easy to make. After that it's at least 21 years of work to make them human. I know because I am working on three of my own.

I expect making androids would be similar. They would be on the easy side to make, but would take a lifetime to teach. My favorite android is Commander Data from Star Trek Next Generation. The android astronauts in the Alien movies are also pretty cool.

Feb 25, 2007,  Robocide is not allowed. I'm not the only one that feels this way

"It was inappropriate to use depression and suicide as a way to sell cars," said Robert Gebbia, the executive director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Feb 04, 2007,  2007 - GM Super Bowl Robot Commercial Tragedy Violates the 3rd law

I like robots and robotics. I do not like this commercial. I believe the image of a robot throwing itself off a bridge and committing robocide is irresponsible.  What if a person loses their job because they dropped a bolt? Should that person jump off a bridge too?

Maybe GM is implying the robots and people that work at GM are so bad that the only other jobs they could get would be waving signs or holding speakers?

Asimov's Third Law of Robotics - "A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law." Is GM implying that robots must start destroying themselves to protect humans? That is the only way this commercial could comply with the third law - even if the robot was just "dreaming."

Jan 29,  2007 - Plumber or engineer? Email question

Hello, I am currently a 17-year-old high school student in Alberta. I am very interested in becoming a robotics engineer. The thing is I'm not sure if robotic engineering is really what I believe it's going to be...Maybe you can guide me. I am planning to go to UofA (University of Alberta) http://www.ualberta.ca/ and then taking the courses I need to get a PhD in Robotics Engineering: http://www.engineering.ualberta.ca/ (I'm not sure if they offer that course)

After I passed the requirements, I would maybe like to get some experience maintaining robots/get hired for robotics designs around Edmonton and Cold Lake (Northwest of Edmonton): http://www.1clickhotels.com/maps/Alberta%20Map.gif

My real goal though would be to start a project kind of like Kiberton: http://www.kibertron.com/ Except maybe get some funds from somewhere like Honda, the government or the Canadian Forces (I'm planning to either be the designer of a big android project for civilian/commercial or industrial uses or possibly, hopefully a military project.) High hopes eh? How much chance do you think I have at succeeding? Do you think I can do it by going to UofA? Would I be obligated to move around the country? Is it a good job for supporting a family?

Thanks alot, I really hope you can help me

PS. My friend and I were having this debate. He's going to go in trades and become a plumber/electrician. I said I was going to go to university and become an engineer. He says that I'm going to waste 6 years, he'll be filthy rich, he'll be able to retire when he's young and I'll spend all my life trying to make as much money as he could. Is this true? 

According to Rich - Thanks for the thoughtful email. First of all, I recommend that you go the
university route. It will not be a waste and you will learn a lot. You will not regret that choice.

Can you make more money in engineering or in the trades? Understand that neither engineers nor "tradesmen" are going to make a lot of money on the ground floor. Going the trades route, you can start your own business and ultimately have a number of plumbers, electricians, etc. working for you. If that sounds interesting, you might go to a university and study business. As an engineer you can also start your own business and have other engineers working for you. Or you could work at a bigger company and have a number of engineers reporting to you (I have about 15 engineers reporting to me). Either way, as you grow in your career you will be more successful if you learn to coach, mentor, leverage and direct others.

Did I mention that I recommend the university route? That’s not the only way, but you will have more options.

PS I asked my son what he thought about your email. Here’s how he replied:

According to Rich's son - Well, you'll have to work with the questions appertaining to the job itself (ie. Moving around the country, having a family. Then again, I guess you are a robotics engineer, and I am your son. So that would answer  the family question.)

But I think he should know that, at least to me, it seems like a questionable idea to create plans for a future based upon a certain string of events happening without flaw - making it into UofA, then earning a PhD, then getting a job in robotics, and at last coming up with his wonderful android or military project. If he is truly interested in robotics for the field itself, then this plan will certainly bring him to a sense of contentment/fulfillment, despite any changes in the plans that may occur along the way. However, if his only, or at least main, incentive for pursuing this career path is to end up in the final scenario he's listed here, then he may need to reconsider. What if the PhD doesn't go as planned? What if he isn't able to land a job on a major project right off the bat? Also, his specific interests such as these may change. He needs to ask himself if he's really interested in the field of robotics, and not only in completing the path he's outlined here. If the answer is yes, and an outline is all this is, and he is truly willing to go forth with this, then I'm sure he could be happy as a robotics engineer.

As for his debate with his friend... I'll let you handle this one. If all his friend can think about is how to do him one better by becoming fat and happy first, then I really haven't got anything to say.

Jan 11,  2007 - How do I find a job in robotics? Email question

I get emailed this question more than any other. I would say a “job in robotics” means you are getting paid to design, build, deploy or maintain robots. So what industries design, build, deploy or maintain robots? The answer to this depends a lot on how we define “robot.” There are six-axis industrial robots used in the auto industry, wafer handling robots used in semiconductor manufacturing, robotic surgeons, robotic airplanes, robotic vacuum cleaners and the list goes on. I call it robotic if it is a computer-controlled machine with moving parts. Based on that definition, there are companies that design, build, deploy and maintain robots in just about every industry you can think of. There are companies that make robotic products and there are companies that do custom robotic systems. I'm sure you can find them using Internet searches or by networking with people you know. I don't personally recommend any one company over another.

Building, deploying and maintaining robots could be very interesting. You would be on the "ground floor" working with robots every day. To get started a person might consider a technical college degree. Networking with people you know or have worked with in the past is always a good idea. Somehow you will need to demonstrate by experience or training that you are qualified.

To get a job designing robots or robotic systems you are almost certainly going to need a four-year engineering degree. Many robotics engineers will have Master’s degree and there are plenty of PhD’s around. You also need to understand that when you first graduate college, even with a Master’s degree, you will be a very junior engineer. Robotic systems are typically the most complex systems a company will make. You will need to first focus on a subsystem, such as the mechanical, electrical, computing or software systems. Once you have become an accomplished engineer in one of those fields, you can move up to the more advanced systems engineering role.

November 4,  2006 - Snake Arm Robot  For assembly in tight places

This is a "snake" extension to a standard industrial robot. It looks to me like the snake section has about ten segments. The long thin profile allows it to work in tight places with the initial applications being inspection and sealing inside of aircraft wings. The long thin profile will also make it pretty flexible and limit it to applications requiring low precision. There is a picture of the actual system on the lower, right-hand corner of the page.

October 14,  2006 - Remote Controlled Robotic Medic  The Bear

Bear stands for Battlefield Extraction And Retrieval. This is a remote controlled walking robot designed to pick up and carry wounded soldiers to a safer position. It has a very high payload capacity of 500 pounds but the cool thing is that it can travel on it's feet, knees and even while practically lying down and still carry its payload. I can easily envision this technology being extended to civilian applications such as search and rescue in burning or unstable buildings. I wonder if the Bear could carry heavy fire hose into buildings?

August 31,  2006 - Linux-powered robots from France?  Oui!

A French start-up created to build autonomous, easily programmable, affordable humanoid robots has emerged from stealth mode. Aldebaran Robotics, of Paris, expects to ship its first product -- a humanoid household service robot running Linux -- in early 2007.

August 23,  2006 - Robotics Job Opportunity  Came by email

Job Summary:

Develop original algorithms and software code to produce practical solutions to unsolved problems in the deployment of outdoor mobile robots.

Essential Functions:

* Program robotics platform using C/C++
* Develop creative approaches and algorithms in order to minimize the need for sensor input
* Work with a team of 3-5 other engineers in the development of the software and robotic platform
* Work with technical product manager to ensure all customer requirements are met effectively

See the Indy Robotics website for more information

August 9,  2006 - Robotics Job Opportunity

Dear Richard, 
We are currently helping a client fill the following position:

Position: MES Consultant - OSISoft, 
Job Id: 4492 
Job Location: Northeast 
Job Type: Employee

Are you looking for challenging assignments and opportunities for personnel growth in a collaborative and team-oriented environment?

Our client is a Manufacturing Consulting and Systems Integration company specializing in MES applications and any other projects that require knowledge in both Information Systems and manufacturing processes. They are currently seeking a MES Consultant specializing in OSISoft for projects in the Life Sciences industry. 

This company offers a flexible and open work environment focused on client satisfaction and employee growth through the practical application of advanced systems technologies to solve mission critical problems. They invest in their employees through training and development so that they can deliver maximum value to our customers. 

This individual will work in a growing IT consulting organization focused on delivering manufacturing and supply chain system solutions. Duties will include leading or participating in consulting engagements, as well as helping clients define, justify, plan and implement technology solutions for manufacturing and supply chain environments across the U.S. and Canada. 

The position can be based anywhere in or near the greater Philadelphia or mid-Atlantic area. The job requires travel to client locations on a periodic basis. 

Successful candidates will possess some or all of the following experience and qualifications: 
• Experience in the design, configuration, implementation, and integration of manufacturing or supply chain systems. 
• Hands-on experience designing and implementing OSISoft solutions, specifically PI Batch and PI Data Warehouse implementations 
• Bachelor’s degree or higher is preferred 
• Experience in applying industry standards (such as SCOR, ISA S88, and ISA S95) 
• Strong verbal and written communication skills 
• Willing to travel extensively within the US. 
• Experience in the Life Sciences (pharmaceutical, bio-tech, etc.) industry is preferred.

July 12,  2006 - Omnibot "Vintage Robot"

The Omnibot was a cool little robot made in the mid 1980's. For you vintage robot collectors, this site has some parts you might be able to use.

May 5,  2006 - Amazing Walking Robot

I don't how long the batteries last or any details, but this is really something to watch.

March 10,  2006 - Liquid water on Saturn moon Enceladus may well support life

The most exciting discovery imaginable. We should send a robotic spacecraft to investigate as soon as possible. Can someone please tell GW Bush that we've already sent people to the moon? He must not be aware of that because he's making a big deal of his plans to send people to the moon. That's diverting much-needed funding that should go to robotic missions.

May 2,  2006 - Robotics Job Opportunity

Dear Richard, 
We are currently helping a client fill the following position:

Position: Automation Software Engineer - Richardson, TX [4299], 
Job Id: 4299 
Job Location: Richardson, TX 
Job Type: Employee

Our client is small but rapidly growing manufacturing company. They are currently seeking an Automation Software Engineer. This individual is responsible for maintaining current and developing new system control software for products. Responsibilities include:
- Identify, specify, architect, develop, test, integrate, and support software control system & software user interface (UI) for existing manipulation/robotics system products.
- Responsible for automation software of manipulation/ robotics system products.

This person will work with other Software Engineers serving primarily in a hands-on technical role generating revenue through aggressive product development, and secondarily, helping to secure new business via application development with process engineers & scientists.

To qualify, you must have a BS in Engineering, Computer Science, Math or other related field from an accredited university. MS preferred. 7+ years of product development and support experience in automation & robotics system solutions required. Advanced knowledge of C#, .NET and C++ is required along with a broad skill set and experience in software & control system architecture. Motion control and vision analysis experience is preferred. You must also have the following required skills:

Knowledge of applications and associated manufacturing techniques for manufacturing automation systems
Experience developing and managing suppliers/vendors
Ability to quickly learn new technical concepts
Ability to work within a project plan, adhering to the plans goals and milestones
US citizenship or Permanent Residency is required for this position
Fluently speak, read and write English
Good technical communication skills both writing and speaking
Basic skill level using Word, Excel, & PowerPoint
Exercise reasonable judgment (without supervision)
Team player

The Company offers a competitive compensation and benefits package, including medical and dental insurance, stock options, incentive compensation, 401k and more. 


If you or anyone you know are interested and feel you are qualified for this position, please contact us by sending a copy of your resume in WORD format. 

We hope to hear from you,


March 10,  2006 - Liquid water on Saturn moon Enceladus may well support life

The most exciting discovery imaginable. We should send a robotic spacecraft to investigate as soon as possible. Can someone please tell GW Bush that we've already sent people to the moon? He must not be aware of that because he's making a big deal of his plans to send people to the moon. That's diverting much-needed funding that should go to robotic missions.

February 17,  2006 - Job Opportunity - Interested candidates please send a resume to  jennie.gardino@framatome-anp.com

First let me thank you for your site - I personally have learned more about telerobotics (and robotics) in the last hour on your web site then I thought I would ever know and understand. 

Second - the reason I was looking to begin with is that I have been asked to help source candidate for a 
Telerobotics Tooling Engineer opening. (I have put the details below.) I'm assuming with your network that occasionally people asked you for career leads - I would hope you would be willing to pass the below information along in that case. It would be much appreciated. 

Telerobotics Tooling Engineer

Framatome ANP (Advanced Nuclear Power), an AREVA and Siemens Company, is the world's premier nuclear supplier. Framatome ANP's focus includes comprehensive engineering, instrumentation and control, nuclear services, heavy component manufacture, modernization, fuel assemblies for many reactor designs, and the development and construction of nuclear power plants and research reactors.

We are looking for a Tooling Specialist to design machined and welded components for complex Tele-Robotics systems in our CR&R organization in Lynchburg Va. This team provides turn-key component design, replacement and remediation services for nuclear power plant primary system components. Engineers will perform machine tooling design and equipment design used in the replacement of RV Heads, Steam generators and other primary system components. The selected individual will be responsible for the entire life cycle of the tooling, from concept, detailed specification, design, testing through implementation into remote, hazardous locations. Design cycles have very short lead times. This design engineer will work on exciting, multi-million dollar design projects and emergent work using 3D modeling techniques to design detailed tooling and machined equipment used in telerobotics and TWS systems. Design projects vary according to customer needs and are typically first-of-a-kind projects. Candidate must be able to design tools that are leak proof, corrosion resistant, etc… for remote hazardous locations. 

Engineer must travel to utility customers during implementation of equipment and tooling during outage seasons, so qualified candidate must be able to obtain access to nuclear facilities. Travel can be up to 4 weeks at a time, usually in the spring and outage seasons. Engineer may be called to site to address any issues that are encountered with their equipment. 

Requirements: B.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering OR Mechanical Engineering Technology required with min. of 5 yrs relevant design experience in 3D CAD Modeling and machined tooling design. Prefer candidate that has SolidWorks 3D CAD Modeling experience. Design experience for robotic applications ideal. Must be able to provide examples of 3D CAD drawings. Geometric dimensional tolerancing knowledge required and experience with machining and welding processes preferred. 

Interested candidates should submit resume with “ToolingEng” in subject line to:

February 6,  2005 - Job Opportunity - Interested candidates please send a resume in Word format to sdwyer@automationtechies.com

Position: Applications Engineer - Any TX Location, 
Job Id: 4229 
Job Location: Dallas, TX 
Job Type: Employee

Our client is a distributor and value added reseller of Industrial Automation Products. They are currently seeking an Applications Engineer to support their sales of Robotics and Motion Control products. 

Candidates should have at least a 2-year technical degree and 5 years of work experience, or a 4-year technical degree and 3 years of work experience. Experience working in a similar role is a plus. 

The job will be based out of Dallas, TX, however we will take applicants from elsewhere in Texas since the customer base will require traveling throughout the state.

December 21,  2005 - Passfaces

This company has a pretty cool idea to add an additional layer of security to traditional login and password user verification. I recommend giving it a try at the above link by clicking the "Try Passfaces." It's kind of fun. The system makes use of our brain's natural ability to recognize faces. Basically, you pick your passfaces out of a crowd to verify your identity. There are a lot of benefits to this approach. You can't write your passfaces down, you can't tell them to someone else, they can't be phished and they are very hard to steal.

December 18,  2005 - These Technicians Are Better Than Robots

Japan is turning to hyper-skilled supaa ginosha, or super technicians, to preserve its manufacturing edge 

Behind the locked doors of a Sharp Corp. (SHCAY ) factory in the central Japanese city of Nara, Rina Masuda spends her days at a task most people would find both mind-numbing and infuriating. With the searing tip of a soldering iron, she guides droplets of molten metal on a circuit board to the edges of a microchip. In less than a minute she has the chip standing on dozens of tiny metal legs separated by a hair's breadth to keep electrons flowing smoothly. Masuda's job seems at odds with the bank of machines just a few yards away that spit out hundreds of circuit boards every hour. Yet Masuda doesn't fear losing her job to automation, at least not until the equipment is as precise as she is. When the machines botch a job, she's called in to fix up the chips. "The soldering I do by hand is far superior to anything the machines can do," says the 33-year-old.

August 20,  2005 - Entertainment & Humanoid Robots

I recently had a question about entertainment and humanoid robots in the US. It seemed to me that most entertainment robots in the movies these days were computer-generated. For actual and physical entertainment robots, I bet the Disney imagineers do it as well as anyone.

As for humanoid robots, I'm not sure who is working on that kind of beast. Maybe Rodney Brooks at MIT? Marshall Brain certainly talks about them. I don't know if he is building any of them.

Anyone out there with information, links, contacts, etc. about entertainment or humanoid robots in the US, please send it in and I will be happy to post it.

July 26,  2005 - Motion Control Is Robotics - Job Opening

Dear Richard:
We are currently helping a client fill the following position:

Position: Motion Controls Engineer , 
Job Id: 3926 
Job Location: Dallas, TX 
Job Type: Employee

Our client is a Systems Integrator based in Texas, with offices around the country. They are looking for a controls engineer with extensive experience in a variety of motion control platforms. 

-BS Degree in Engineering 
-Wonderware/ControlLogix/Allen Bradley-SERCOS Motion 
-experience with Kinetix SERCOS would be a plus. 
-Interpersonal skills and project management is a big plus. 

When applying please list the different types of motion controllers, servos, or steppers you have experience with. 


If you or anyone you know are interested and feel you are qualified for this position, please contact us by sending a copy of your resume in WORD format. 

We hope to hear from you,


July 23,  2005 - Robot Camel Jockeys "I almost could not believe it"

The robots were developed after the United Arab Emirates Camel Racing Association banned the use of jockeys under the age of 16 in March 2004 (they increased the age limit to 18 in July 2005). It may sound crazy, but if it is helping to keep children out of dangerous situations, then I'm all for it. Human operators carrying handheld radio units, in a convoy of sports utility vehicles, following ten camels each with a remote-controlled mechatronic jockey must have been something to see. I wish I had been at that racetrack in Abu Dubai.

July 3,  2005 - "Robotics Job Opening"

Rich, I need a software engineer who understands robotics. We make semiconductor process systems that employ servo motors and some pneumatics to process and handle the wafers. We are located in Northern New Jersey and I need a good reliable guy. Can you help. To see what we do visit our web site at www.s-cubed.com Thank you. Gary Hillman 973-263-0640

Dear Richard, 
We are currently helping a client fill the following position:

Position: Manufacturing Process Engineer-TX8802, 
Job Id: 3881 
Job Location: El Paso, TX 
Job Type: Employee

Description: Manage and participate in new technology development and automation projects targeted to support corporate key initiatives. Work closely with R&D, Technology Development, and Software Engineering team members to develop and deploy state of the art production manufacturing equipment. Design process control strategies to support quality improvement goals and objectives using SPC and Six Sigma methodologies. Maintain and support daily production equipment uptime requirements. Works on significant and unique issues where analysis of situations or data requires an evaluation of intangibles. Exercises independent judgment in methods, techniques and evaluation criteria for obtaining results. Contacts pertain to significant matters often involving coordination among groups. 

-BS in Electrical or Mechanical Engineering 
-7+ years hands on experience directly related to state of the art Machine, Robotic and Material Handling Automation in R&D or Production Engineering. 
-5+ years experience managing automation related projects. 
-1-3 years SPC / Six Sigma training and experience with Six Sigma Green Belt preferred. 
-Robotic Programming 
-Experience working with minimal supervision and directing resources. 
-Project Management 
- Must posses the ability to effectively communicate in both oral and written form with emphasis on requirements and specifications. In addition must have the ability to report project status accurately and timely to Manager level. 

Contact lreitz@automation.com if interested

April 30,  2005 - "Finally, A Reasonable Plan to Service the Hubble"

I read in the paper today that the new NASA chief is thinking aloud about a shuttle mission to service the Hubble. As I've said before on this site, I consider the Hubble Deep Field images to be some of the great contributions of human kind. As much as I love robots, I believe that it makes the most sense to use astronauts, rather than robots, to service the Hubble. A number of my good friends in the robotics field feel otherwise. Here's a report from Dr. Craig Carignan of the University of Maryland Space Systems Laboratory that I've previously posted:

"In the Space Systems Laboratory at the University of Maryland, we have developed a highly capable robotic system called Ranger which has performed several Hubble servicing tasks in neutral buoyancy, including changeout of the electronic control unit (ECU) and batteries, as well as tasks supporting the replacement of radial instruments such as the Wide Field Camera and Fine Guidance Sensor. These tasks involve grabbing handrails, unscrewing bolts, removing large modules, and installing connectors, all of which are EVA "friendly" but still require a high level of dexterity."

April 20,  2005 - "Robotics Job Opening"

Aerotek’s Automotive division has an immediate opening for a Robotic Installation Engineer.  You must have previous work experience installing and programming Fanuc robots.  Installations will take place at automotive suppliers throughout the country.  This position requires between 80-100% travel and salary is negotiable.  This is a contract to hire position.  If interested in the position please email Jim Wellington at jwelling@aerotek.com

March 29,  2005 - "How Do I Become a Robotics Engineer"

I get emailed this question two or three times a week from people in elementary school, high school, college or graduate school. I'm trying to develop some thoughtful and age-appropriate responses to post on the site. I would really appreciate it if anyone would like to send in their own experiences. That will help me give a broader perspective.

March 20,  2005 - Darpa Grand Challenge "What  will it be this year?"

Last year I predicted that no team would even come close to finishing (March 11, 2004) http://www.learnaboutrobots.com/archives.htm  I was right then and I'll go out on the same limb now. No team will make it even half way. There is a $2Meg prize, but that is a pittance compared to what these teams are spending. Clearly they are doing it for more than just the prize money. There's the fame, the glory and as Red Whittaker told me himself, “never spend your own money…”

Feb 11,  2005 - Shaking Hands with a Robot "Robotic Hands"

This is a fantastic article that primarily discusses haptics (a category of technology that allows users to “touch” or “feel” virtual objects via mechanical simulation), but also considers some of the affects of robots on society. The difficulty associated with haptics has to do with the frequency response of the feedback mechanism. Typical robotic systems have a first mode around one Hertz. This means that if you try to command them to do something faster than about once a second they'll either start vibrating or will just ignore the command. To convey a sense of touch, such as the texture of a surface, the frequency response has to be around 100 times better than that. I find it interesting that the very early telerobotic systems developed during the 1940's had superb haptic feedback because of their purely mechanical nature.

Feb 8,  2005 - Austin Team in the Darpa Grand Challenge "Will this year be different?"

Last year I predicted before the Darpa challenge competition that no team would even come close to making it. I'm still working on a prediction for this year. Austin, Texas (the town I live in) is represented by a team this year. I've been helping them with their safety strategies. I would love to participate more, but time is pretty short these days.

January 28,  2005 - New Robot on the Space Station "This one was built by Germany"

They've got the robot up to the space station and installed.

December 16,  2004 - Robot Going to the Space Station "This one was built by Germany"

I'm becoming more and more convinced that the only reason to send people into space is to study the effects of people being in space. Between robots, automation and remote control; there really is no need for humans to control the spaceship or conduct experiments.

December 11,  2004 - Jellyfish Robot "It's only $29K"

A Japanese firm said it has created a jellyfish-shaped robot that can alert homeowners to burglars or house-sit for their pets. When not at work, it can lounge about and be "beautiful." Just like me.

December 05,  2004 - But What About the Eels? "Replicating an Eel’s Nerve Circuitry May Aid Paralyzed People"

This does not have much to do with robotics, but it's still pretty cool. These scientists are studying the nervous system of the Lamprey eel to try to learn how the creature controls its locomotion. They then want to use this knowledge to help people with spinal cord damage.

December 02,  2004 - Watch Out for Cats "New robot uses real mouse whiskers to navigate tight quarters"

I'm pretty sure I don't even want to know how they go the real mouse whiskers. This effort follows along the lines of making robots that mimic biology. I find it interesting that the whiskers not only sense when the robot bumps into things, but they can also sense vibrations in the ground and air.

November 15,  2004 - Neuromorphic Engineering "Combining Electrical Engineering and Neurobiology"

This approach to machine vision uses a computing architecture modeled on a fly's brain. A common fly has a brain about the size of a sesame seed with only about a million neurons, yet the fly is an autonomous creature that finds it's own food; mates; and , well, flies. In many ways these behaviors are far beyond the capabilities of even the most advanced of today's robots.

October 15,  2004 - Robot Machine Gun "You would not want to see one of these rolling towards you"

This is not really a robot. It is a remote-controlled vehicle on tank treads that also sports a remote-controlled machine gun. It is a take on the remote controlled reconnaissance vehicles they use to search in caves and such. They can also mount rocket launchers on these things. Given the military's budget and the rapidly-progressing state-of-the-art in robotics, we are going to be seeing some very scary robots in the very near future.

September 24,  2004 - Austin, Texas Engineering Jobs "Very low BS factor"

The company I work for is trying to hire some electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, software engineers and a project manager. I think it is a great place to work. There is a constant supply of very high tech and interesting projects. We have very few meetings and no Dilbert managers. Email me your resume and a short note if you are interested. I posted the job descriptions on the page linked to above. 

September 15,  2004 - Robot Venus Fly Trap "Maybe if they could make it catch mosquitoes..."

The article describes a small robot that generates its own power by catching and digesting flies. Of course the power generated by digesting flies is quite small so the robot moves very slowly. I think they should make a robot that catches and digests mosquitoes. Here in Texas mosquitoes are a big problem. People even install "misting systems" that essentially blast their whole yard with insecticide on a pre-programmed basis. The robot would not even need to move around the yard. In fact, it would not even need to be a robot. It could just sit out in the far corner of the yard digesting mosquitoes. It would use the energy from digesting the blood-suckers to generate carbon monoxide to lure more mosquitoes. In Houston that would be a virtual perpetual energy machine. 

September 1,  2004 - Robot Foosball "So now robots are going to hang around in bars?"

I can't decide whether this is a robot or not. No matter, Foosball was one of my favorite games growing up so I have to write about this one. These researchers at the University of Freiburg in Germany connected the rods on one side of a foosball table to high-powered motors and an electronic control system. The bottom of the table is made from a see-through green material and underneath is a camera that scans the position of the ball and then sends the data to a computer. The computer is preprogrammed with knowledge of the dynamics of the ball, the rules of the game and a goal of hitting the ball towards the opponent's side of the table. So far the robot system can't come close to beating an expert player, but the makers of the system claim that they will be the world champs within five years. I'm not so sure about that. Foosball is not all about reflexes and tracking. A good portion of the game is anticipating the moves of your opponent. I have another question. Who is funding this research? I want some too!

August 12,  2004 - Job Opening "Telerobotics Tooling Engineer"

I got this inquiry via email and thought it would be easiest just to post it on this site. Areva Framatome is looking for a Tooling Specialist to design machined and welded components for complex Tele-Robotics systems.

July 22,  2004 - I, Robot "I'll give it a 2 out of 5"

I'm going to give away some of the plot twists in this review, so if you have not seen "I, Robot" you may want to quit reading now. I did enjoy watching this movie, but then again, I enjoy most everything about robots so that is not saying too much. The movie has boatloads of action and armies of cool robots, but it's obvious the three laws of robotics are just shoehorned in. They should have called it "2001: A Space Odyssey Remade into a Summer Blockbuster," because the basic premise behind "I, Robot" is that a central computer goes out of control and decides it's ok to kill humans. They try to fit in the Asimov's first law by saying that the computer is saving humanity from itself by killing-off a few bad apples; thus still following the first law. This is one of the things that really bugs me about this movie. They get the first law wrong. The first law states that a robot may not injure a human being. Not even one. Not for any reason. The robots are constantly trying to kill Will Smith and somehow that is still following the first law? Preposterous. Speaking of preposterous, hundreds of robots go after Will Smith, platoons of them at a time, and somehow he beats them all off. They would have easily gotten him halfway through the movie. In the final scene the robots are swarming around Will and the obligatory babe/possible-love-interest like a swarm of mad bees and of course the heroes make it. Just writing this review is making me like the movie less. That pretty much sums it up. This movie was fun to watch, but afterward I started liking it less and less. 

Since I'm ranting about robots and movies. I'll give you a list of my favorite robot movies in roughly chronological order. Note that "I, Robot" does not make this list: Metropolis, The Day the Earth Stood Still, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Silent Running, Sleeper, Westworld, The (original) Stepford Wives, Star Wars, Alien, Blade Runner, The Terminator, Robocop and A.I.

July 15,  2004 -

The Omnibot was a cool little robot made in the mid 1980's. For you vintage robot collectors, this site has some parts you might be able to use.

July 7,  2004 - Hospitals turn to robot couriers "I'm not sure about this one"

These are essentially delivery units that can bring around mail, meals and maybe a clean pillow.  I'm not all for this application of robots. There's a human element to hospitals and people can really make a difference. I've been in the hospital a time or two due to being a pretty accident-prone kid. Those few visits by the nurse or the guy with the meals really helped break-up the day. They would chat for a couple of minutes and ask how you were doing. Rolling robot cabinets just are not going to have the same effect.

June 30,  2004 - Robot Floor Scrubber "Entrepreneur Henry Hillman Jr. starts yet another venture"

I like this application. These robot floor scrubbers can clean thousands of square feet of commercial space. They are replacing what has to be a horribly boring job for humans and the autonomy challenges are not too great. Basically, a perfect job for robots!

June 19,  2004 - It's Official "NASA proposes to award a sole-source contract for robotic servicing of the Hubble Space Telescope"

It's not quite the National Enquirer, but for me, this is a pretty good scoop. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) intends to issue a SOLE SOURCE Request for Proposal (RFP) to MD Robotics for the development of a robotic grapple arm and a double-armed dexterous robot that would be needed to accomplish the hardware exchange during a potential space-flight mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), called the HST Robotic Servicing and De-orbit Mission (HRSDM).

MD Robotics are the folks who developed the Canadarm robot arm, a version of which has flown on every Space Shuttle flight for the last twenty years. The arm has a shoulder with 2 DOF, an elbow with 1 DOF and a 3 DOF wrist. It is routinely used as a mobile work platform for the astronauts, for "tossing" satellites into space and for retrieving faulty ones. Non-routine uses have included: knocking a block of ice from a clogged waste-water vent, pushing a faulty antenna into place, and activating a satellite that failed to go into proper orbit. Several of these arms have been in service for twenty years.

That being said, why on earth is this a SOLE SOURCE RFP!? There are plenty of other robotics companies that should at least be allowed to bid on this project.

June 15,  2004 - Robotic Space Servicing "Will robots service the Hubble?"

Craig Carignan of the University of Maryland Space Systems Lab sent the above link to a cool robot animation. He writes, "In May, 2004, we were offered an opportunity to integrate the Ranger dexterous arms into the rendezvous and docking simulator at the Naval Research Laboratory for some joint tests, which simulate a spacecraft flying up to a satellite, grappling the berthing bars on the aft bulkhead, then performing an electronics box changeout. This test had a very short turn-around time, and the Ranger team deserves a great deal of credit for making it happen."

There's some more information on the Ranger here.

May 20,  2004 - FDA Approves Miniature Back Surgery Robot "The European Union has also given its CE approval for the robot"

At only $100,000 this robot seems curiously inexpensive. I would think $100K/robot would barely cover the liability insurance. In any case, this is just the latest in what is sure to be a continuing trend of robots in the operating room. I've already reported on robots participating in open-heart surgery, brain surgery and now back surgery.

May 11,  2004 - Robots Are Our friends "I've been saying this all along"

This article discusses how robots in the movies almost always transform from fearsome creatures into our friendly servants. I like to use the Terminator example. In the first Terminator Arnold was a killing machine dispatching humans with wanton abandon. Towards the end of the movie he was one ugly mess with rotting organic skin full of bullet holes - but still killing humans at full-throttle. At the very end he was barely able to crawl and ultimately crushed in a machine press. By the third Terminator he was a Hollywood hunk doing his best to save humanity. I took the paragraph below directly from the article above. Hopefully this will entice you to read it.

"When Mary Shelley's Frankenstein first lays eyes on what his science has wrought, he thinks, "I had gazed on him while unfinished; he was ugly then; but when those muscles and joints were rendered capable of motion, it became a thing such as even Dante could not have conceived." When Boris Karloff wakes up in James Whale's "Frankenstein" (1931), however, the audience, primed for horror, is actually relieved; the forehead's on the massive side, and those things sticking out of his neck are a little unfortunate, but he's not so bad, considering. And by the end of the picture we've become so used to the monster's ungainly appearance that he's hardly scary at all: he's kind of likable."

April 16,  2004 - Robots Can Service the Hubble "Today we have a guest commentator."

The  article at the link above discusses robotic options for servicing the Hubble space telescope. This idea has generated quite a bit of controversy. In March's IEEE Spectrum Anne Kinney said that the task was not feasible for robotics. A few days ago I wrote that we should  just use the shuttle missions as previously planned. The following is a differing opinion from a friend of mine.

"I read with great dismay Anne Kinney's remarks regarding an all-robotic servicing mission of Hubble as being "unfeasible" and "beyond the state of the art" [see "Can the Hubble Space Telescope Be Saved", March]. The statement that today's robots are incapable of making "delicate repairs" is simply not accurate and does a great disservice to the community of engineers who have been working on robotic servicing systems such as "Robonaut", "Ranger TSX", and "CanadArm/SPDM" to name just a few.

In the Space Systems Laboratory at the University of Maryland, we have developed a highly capable robotic system called Ranger which has performed several Hubble servicing tasks in neutral buoyancy, including changeout of the electronic control unit (ECU) and batteries, as well as tasks supporting the replacement of radial instruments such as the Wide Field Camera and Fine Guidance Sensor. These tasks involve grabbing handrails, unscrewing bolts, removing large modules, and installing connectors, all of which are EVA "friendly" but still require a high level of dexterity.

While we cannot do a complete fourth HST servicing mission robotically (at least not yet), we have demonstrated the most critical robotic servicing tasks (battery and rate sensor changeouts) needed to extend Hubble's life expectancy to a planned deorbit after the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) comes online. After seeing such a comment, it makes me wonder if the NASA scientific community is really unaware of the true state of the art, or it just views HST and JWST as a zero sum game – one in which they have already clearly picked the winner."

Craig Carignan, Adj. Prof.
Dept. of Aerospace Engineering, University of Maryland

April 15,  2004 - Robots have it made. They face neither death nor taxes.

April 13,  2004 - Robotics Education "I thought this site was supposed to be about robotics education..."

Given that this site is dedicated to education, I've been remiss in not supporting other sites also devoted to scientific education and robotics. I guess the first one I will start with is FIRST. FIRST stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. Probably their most famous educational activity is their robotics competition. The FIRST Robotics Competition challenges teams of students and their mentors to solve a common problem in a six-week timeframe using a standard "kit of parts" and a common set of rules. Teams build robots from the parts and enter them in a series of competitions. They have two leagues, the first for ages 15 to 18 and a Lego league for kids 9 to 14. The teams come from Canada, Brazil, Great Britain, and almost every U.S. state. In 2004 the competition will reach more than 20,000 students on over 900 teams in 27 competitions.

April 9,  2004 - NASA Considers Using Robots to Repair Hubble Space Telescope "This is one time when I am not in favor of using robotics."

As I've said before, I consider the Hubble Deep Field to be one of the great contributions of human-kind. The view is of a patch of sky 1/30th the diameter of the moon (in other words, a very small patch of sky). Each of the hundreds of spiral structures you see in this view is a galaxy, just like the Milky Way galaxy we occupy. Our sun is one of 200 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy. When we humans look out into the night sky we see a very small fraction of the stars in our galaxy. When the Hubble looks out into the sky it sees billions of galaxies, each with billions of stars. Of course there is other intelligent life in the universe. There are probably billions of civilizations.

Recently, NASA announced that it would not use the Space Shuttle to send needed replacement parts to the Hubble because of the danger. They said all future shuttle missions should be to the International Space Station because that was more safe. In reality, missions to the space station are only a tiny bit safer than a mission to the Hubble would be. Honestly, when is the shuttle going to have a catastrophic failure? On take-off and re-entry. Furthermore, the Hubble does not have the propulsion it needs for controlled re-entry. NASA would need to design some kind of new "space tug" to control the telescope's re-entry and keep it from landing on our heads. My advice is to just use the shuttle as had been planned.

March 30,  2004 - Monkey Controls Robot Arm via Neural Implants "Beware the Borg Monkey!"

There are a bunch of articles on these monkeys since the topic is so cool. I'm linking to this one since it has the best Flash animation I've ever seen: http://news.mc.duke.edu/filebank/2003/10/41/Robot_arm.swf  Couldn't you just sit and watch that for hours? The story itself is about how these scientists mapped the brains of some macaque monkeys to discover which parts controlled arm movements. The scientists then surgically implanted electrodes to electronically connect the monkey's brains with a robot controller. After some training, the monkeys were able to control the robotic arm to very good precision via direct brain-wave connection! Amazing. The field of bionic prosthetics is moving at a very good clip right now.

March 13,  2004 - Robots Lose Darpa Challenge "None of them even came close"

This ended pretty much like I predicted below. None of the robots even came close to completing the 250 mile course. I think two of them made it seven miles. The CMU team spent $3 million dollars just on this project and leveraged technology they have been developing for years. It's been this way since the 1970's. You can build a robot, but you can't educate it.

March 11,  2004 - Darpa Robot Race Begins "At stake is a $1 Million first prize"

The publicity for the this race has been brewing for months. The basic challenge is this: a fully-autonomous (no human control) car has to travel a fixed-course 250 miles through the Nevada desert. The quickest time that also averages at least 15 mph wins. As of now, the favorite in the race is Red Zone Robotics (associated with Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh), though my bet is that none of the cars will make it. The Red Zone team has spent roughly $3 million developing their entry; so they are clearly not in it for the prize money. What I find interesting is that the task itself seems so simple. Any human with a $5,000 ATV could do it. This clearly illustrates just how far robotics has to go in terms of approaching human intelligence. I'm sure the Red Zone entry has more sensor and computing power than anyone will be able to cram into a human-scale robot within the next ten years. Marshall Brain predicts that by 2050 we will have $10,000 robots with computing power roughly on-par with humans. He may be right about the raw computing power, but it's contests like this Darpa challenge that make me believe that those robots will have no where near a human's  ability to cope with unstructured environments.

February 28,  2004 - Robot Powered By Live Muscle "Tiny robot activated by microscopic living heart muscle"

This tiny robot (about half the width of a human hair) is powered by living heart muscle. This article is really short so I'll let you read it. Too cool!

February 14, 2004 - Robosapien "Rambunctious, realistic, recreational robot who is easily programmed and mastered with a remote control."

This little toy sounds almost too good to be true. It is 14 inches tall and can perform up to 67 pre-programmed functions including pick-up, throw, high-five, whistle, dance and three different karate moves. It has sensors throughout its body that allow it to WALK and avoid obstacles. All of this and it costs only $99. It is supposed to be available this summer. I can't wait to get one! Because of the low price-point, this could be a great tool for robotics education.

February 4, 2004 - UD Engineers Build Flying Robot "Military could use Micro Air Vehicles for reconnaissance"

These guys are trying to build micro robots that fly by flapping their wings. I applaud this effort in the context of robotics education, but as far as having something practical, all I have to say is "Good luck." Certainly biomimetics (mimicking natural biology) is a branch of robotics, but ornithopters (heavier-than-air flying craft propelled by flapping wings) are laughable. Whenever I read or hear about them I can't help thinking of those old news-reels with all the ridiculous attempts at mechanical flying machines with flapping wings. Sure, nowadays you can make an ornithopter that flies, but do it just for fun. And please don't tell me the military might use them. I can't imagine a scenario where an ornithopter would have a technical advantage over standard aircraft. If it needs to hover, make it a helicopter. People think that nature must have "engineered" the best designs via many thousands of years of natural selection. In some cases that may be true, but nature does not make continuous turning joints. That's why there is nothing in nature that can accelerate as fast as a dragster, or fly as fast as a jet airplane, or carry as much weight as a turbine-powered helicopter.

Feb 1, 2004 - Robotics Halts the Flow of Jobs Offshore "But it is not what you may be hoping for..."

I've long held the opinion that robots are best for environments that are dangerous for humans. These environments include outer space, nuclear plants and under the sea. Robots are also great at extremely repetitive tasks, like spot welding on an assembly line. Unless the task is dangerous or repetitive, humans can do it better and more cheaply. The reason for this is not the cost of building the robot, but rather the cost of teaching the robot (and re-teaching the robot if anything about the task or its environment changes). The article above by Marshall Brain holds the basic premise that by 2050 we will have robots that cost $10,000 and have computing power roughly on-par with the human brain. The slippery-slope implications of this premise are startling. This article should be part of your robotics education.

January 22, 2004 - The Age of Robots has Begun "First -half 2003 orders for robots up 26% over previous year"

This article is actually a few months old. I am only including it to show how misleading statistics can be. Take a look at this article and see if you can get any of the numbers to add-up properly. I sure could not. There is also an incredibly misleading statistic cited that "robots sold last year cost a fifth of what they did in 1990." Sure, that's because now they are including robot vacuum cleaners and robot toy dogs in the statistics. In an apples-to-apples comparison the price of robots has not changed much, though today's robots are much better in terms of speed, accuracy and payload.

January 18, 2004 - President Bush Announces New Space Initiative "The President announced new plans to build a manned station on the Moon and send humans to Mars."

Clearly just about anything the President does is going  to generate controversy and this one is no different. The Democrats question whether the $12 billion over the next five years would be better spent on domestic programs. Of course the use of real logic in politics is prohibited, but it is actually quite clear. The money is an investment. The government is investing money in NASA in the hopes that the technology they develop will be worth more to the country in the future. NASA has enough of a history that we should be able to measure their performance in this respect. I always hear about Velcro being a technology NASA developed, but what other technologies that are having economic impact have they developed? I'm sure there are some. It's just that I don't know what they are. A non-partisan study should be able to determine the economics, though. How much have we spent versus how much has been returned? I certainly question whether these should be "manned" operations. Why not make them fully robotic missions? Developing the required robot technology could have just as great (or greater) of an economic impact as developing the technology to keep humans alive on the missions. Also, when one of the space-craft blows-up, as some of them inevitably do, the damage to space program will be far less. A $500 million robot blasted to smithereens will barely make the news. A crew of seven humans perishing will ground the program for at least a year.

January 15, 2004 - Spirit Rolls onto Martian Soil "I don't have any fingernails left to bite!"

Yes I know the rover is already getting tons of publicity. I just can't help writing a little bit about it. As you have probably heard, a partially inflated airbag was blocking the main ramp Spirit was to use to roll off the lander. That bag could have snagged one of Spirit's metal wheels and then that would have been that. The rover would have been a fancy $500 million camera on Mars. Fortunately, the NASA engineers included a back-up ramp. The rover used  it and is now sitting with all six wheels on Martian soil. Over the next few days it will stretch its robotic arm and test its various scientific instruments. Then, sadly, the NASA engineers are going to put it in sleep mode while they focus their attention on the next lander set to bring the rover "Opportunity" to the other side of Mars on January 29th. No way would I do that. If the rover is working, I would start using it. There is still so much that could go wrong.

January 5, 2004 - Rover Lands Successfully: "Hooray! We made it."

By all accounts the spacecraft made a near-perfect landing Saturday night. After a few hours, Spirit began beaming black and white pictures of the landing site back to earth. For at least the next week Spirit will be charging its batteries and testing systems before shedding the umbilical with the landing craft and beginning its land explorations. There's still a million things that have to go right, so keep those fingers crossed! I hope this mission inspires millions of kids to continue their education.

January 2, 2004 - New Mars Rover to Touchdown Saturday: "After 7 years and 303 million miles a new NASA robot is set to deploy on Mars"

"It's not the fall that kills you. It's what you hit at the end," said Pete Theisinger, project manager of the $820 million project. The rover, named Spirit, is set to touchdown Saturday night. The mission also includes a twin rover, Opportunity, set to arrive on Mars on January 24th.  Like the Sojourner rover that NASA successfully landed on Mars in 1996, these rovers will be encased in giant airbags that will hit the Martian surface and then bounce a few times before coming to rest. Assuming they survive this much of the harrowing adventure, the airbags will unfurl and the rovers will begin a ninety-day  journey exploring the Martian surface. The odds of making it are not good. Of the twenty-three space craft that have attempted to land on Mars, only three have made is successfully. The most recent casualty, Britain's Beagle, was to have landed December 25th of 2003. British scientists have been unable to contact the craft since it was supposed to have touched-down. Keep your fingers crossed for Spirit!

December 18, 2003 - Robotic Surgery Fatality: "Suit faults training in fatal surgery"

If robots are used for surgeries unfortunately there are sometimes going to be deaths and lawsuits. In this case doctors used the da Vinci Surgical robot in an attempt to remove a cancerous kidney. According to the article the doctors were unable to complete the operation robotically and resorted to performing the surgery in the traditional fashion. Tragically, the patient died the next day. There were several mishaps during the surgery and the hours following it. Apparently the surgeon mistakenly nicked (using the robot) the patient's aorta and vena cava (two major blood vessels) and a vascular surgeon had to repair the vessels. Also, a post-operative x-ray showed that an absorbent pad had been left inside the patient thus requiring that the patient be re-opened to remove that pad (they put metallic tape on pads and sponges so that they will show in post operative x-rays). A needle was also missing after the surgery and never accounted for, according to the lawsuit. Finally, the suit alleges that after the surgery the patient began showing signs of distress. A nurse tried to find a surgeon to assist in his treatment, but her requests went unfulfilled for more than two hours. A terrible and tragic story, but it sounds like we should not blame the robot.

December 16, 2003 - Robotic Surgery: "Indian Surgeon Performs Multiple Bypass Surgery using Telerobotic Technology"

In another coup for the da Vinci robotic surgical system, doctors at the Escorts Heart Institute and Research Centre in New Delhi telerobotically performed multiple bypass surgery. Using the da Vinci Surgical System, the surgeon operates while seated at a console a few feet from the patient and views a 3-D image of the surgical field on a display screen. The surgeon manipulates joystick-like controls below the display. The system, in turn, translates movements of the surgeon's hands, wrists and fingers into very precise movements of the surgical instruments inside the patient. The surgery required only four external incisions of about 1.4" each.  The doctors say the patient could have gone home only 24 hours after surgery, but they kept him in the hospital for a few days to monitor the results. Amazing. The next procedure on the list for the doctors and the da Vinci system is a heart valve replacement.

December 9, 2003 - Personal Robot: "Industry Set for Massive Growth"

This article predicts that the consumer robotics industry which was at about US $600 million in 2002 will grow to US $5.4 billion by 2005, US $17.1 billion by 2010 and to over US $50 billion by 2025. These robots will primarily mow lawns, clean floors, care for those that need help and amuse children. While I love to hear about growth in the robotics field, I personally believe stories like these are nuts. None of these tasks are especially dangerous or require repetition with extreme accuracy - typical characteristics that make an application good for robots. Is the world going to be so fully-employed by 2025 that we will need robots to do these jobs? No way. Robot vacuum cleaners are indeed pretty cool and I'm sure we'll be seeing quite a few of those within the next decade, but $50 billion worth? We are going to have to start using the term robot very loosely to get anywhere near that number.

December 1, 2003 - Segway Soldiers: "US Considers Turning Scooters into War Robots"

When I first saw photos of the Segway (I still have not seen one in-person) I thought, "Those would make great mobile robots." Of course, the boys at the Pentagon thought the same thing and they are already researching the idea. The "human scale" dimensions of the vehicle are what make it so attractive. It is tall enough to open doors, with the help of an attached manipulator. It could also hold a camera (or some type of weapon) high enough to get a clear shot. I can imagine them being useful to police in hostage situations where the robot could maneuver hallways and elevators to perform reconnaissance. They are also pretty fast at a top speed of 12 mph, which I bet they could increase if they wanted to. Imagine one of these babies with a forward-mounted stun gun chasing a bad guy around. That's both scary and comical at the same time. These could also make great "mules" for following soldiers around while hauling their gear. I personally expect the Segway to revolutionize mobile robotics.

November 25, 2003 - Lobster Robots: "Robo-lobsters may one day roam the seas for scents"

This is a classic case of research looking for applications. The research is the study of particles as they distribute in a gas or fluid (imagine the smoke from a cigarette as it drifts into the air). The physics behind this and the mathematical equations that describe them are very complex and hence are great for getting scholarly publications. Of course, to get anyone to pay for your research, you need to find an application. In this case the application is going to be hoards of robot lobsters roaming the sea searching for sources of pollution. They describe the robot as looking like a "dust buster with wheels and antennae." Heck, they may as well make it look like a lobster while they are at it. There is a great example of one on the undersea robots page of this site. And what about robo-lobsters looking around for pollution? Aren't they going to be using batteries? What other toxic materials will be on board? Something the size of a lobster wandering around on the bottom of the ocean will likely be eaten by whatever it is that eats lobsters. Surely the reliability of the robo-lobsters won't be 100%. Some of them are going to break or get stuck and remain on the ocean floor for whatever reasons. My point here is that these robo-lobsters will themselves become pollution. That needs to be taken into account. The very same thing happens when we use robots to dismantle nuclear facilities. When they break or finish their tasks, then they need to be disposed of as nuclear waste as well.

November 21, 2003 -  Walking Robot Carries Person: The first walking robot capable of carrying a human was unveiled on Friday in Tokyo, Japan.

I love the headline of this one. I really didn't know what to expect when I looked at the article - maybe some giant King Kong robot carrying around a Fay Wray look-alike. Well, it's not that cool, but it is really something. Basically this is a wheel-chair that has legs instead of wheels. There are two feet, each attached to six legs. With twelve legs, each having a motor and controller, you can imagine this is a pretty complicated device. It is no where near ready for prime-time yet. The walking chair can carry about a 100 pound person and can only step over obstacles an inch or two high. Still, I love the idea of it. There may be a practical version in 25 years or so (just guessing), and when there is, it will be great. A person that does not have the use of their legs could go up and down stairs or go out in the woods. I hope I'm around to see it.

November 12, 2003 - Robots Enter Hall of Fame: Carnegie Mellon Inducts Four Robots into Newly Established Hall of Fame

It is about time robots had a hall of fame. Carnegie Mellon has one of the world's leading robotics programs so they should be a good institution to manage the hall of fame. Their choices for the first four robots include two real machines and two robots from science fiction. Here they are:

Unimate: Unimation installed the world's first industrial robots on a General Motors assembly line in 1961. George Engelberger, sometimes called the "father of robotics" because he started Unimation will be accepting the award. What is really amazing is that the geometry defined by the Unimate robots is still the prevailing geometry for today's six-axis industrial robots - over forty years later! Today's industrial robots can carry heavier loads much faster and are far more reliable than the robots of 1961, but they still move in the same way.

Sojourner: I describe this robot on our Space Robotics page (and one of its successors immediately below). This vehicle drove around Mars! I would say the Sojourner is more of an accomplishment for our Space program than it is for robotics, but hey, it took some really spectacular photographs. Sometimes I think really cool photographs are Nasa's greatest contribution, especially the Hubble Deep Field. Have a look. Those are galaxies very much like our Milky way! Trillions of them!

R2D2: Now why R2D2 and not C3PO? C3PO is the humanoid robot with all the joints. R2D2 is pretty-much a rolling computer. C3PO would have been a much better choice.

HAL: Really the only choice here that I agree with. HAL was awesome. It made its own decisions and backed-up those decisions by moving all kinds of machinery around. The concept of a HAL captured the imagination of an entire generation of budding roboticists.

Basically, I consider three out of four of these choices pretty lame. Neither of the two real machines fit my definition of a robot. The Unimation robots were really programmable multi-axis machines and the Sojourner (as described below)  is really a remote controlled car. And clearly if any robot from Star Wars was going into a hall of fame first, it should have been C3PO.

November 7, 2003 - NASA robot conquers Aromas: After a five-year mission the K9 Rover now boldly goes where no robot has gone before.

This vehicle continues along the lines of the Sojourner project. As you may recall, Sojourner is the small wheeled vehicle that NASA successfully deployed on Mars.  It successfully took some spectacular pictures and inspected a number of Martian rocks. Though truly an amazing success story, Sojourner was not a robot. It was a remote-controlled vehicle. Because radio signals take 10 minutes to get to Mars from earth and another ten minutes to get back, Sojourner had to move extremely slowly to avoid rolling over a rock or falling into a hole. This meant at least three hours (and sometimes many more) to inspect each rock.

The current work is extending the rover functionality with true robotics. The NASA engineers tell the K9 rover the object to inspect, but the K9 automatically avoids obstacles and other pitfalls that could trap it as it proceeds to the target. Ultimately NASA wants the vehicles exploring Mars to autonomously pick the objects of interest and get to them without needing any guidance from Earth. My guess is that the next mission will be a mix of autonomous behavior and human guidance. Probably the NASA engineers will pick the interesting objects and specify the path the rover should take to get there. Then the robot will follow the path autonomously without needing direct control from Earth.

November 1, 2003 - Israel to Deploy Robot Bulldozers: 

First of all, these are NOT robots. These are remote-controlled vehicles. A soldier directly controls the bulldozers from a few miles away. There is nothing robotic about them. The Israelis do not call them robots. They call them remote controlled bulldozers. Someone erroneously called them robots probably to get a better headline.

October 30, 2003 - Robots Perform Prostate Surgery: Doctors at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit are now using a robot to perform prostate surgery.

YIKES! That's about the last place I want to see a robot. Seriously, though, these surgeons are achieving remarkable results. The recovery times for the patient are shorter and the complications reduced. These tiny seven degree of freedom robots made by Intuitive Surgical can operate through equally tiny (1 - 3 cm) incisions.  The robotic instruments along with a 3-D camera are inserted through the incisions into the abdomen. The surgeon controls the robots from a nearby console. Little robots actually operating from within the body. Amazing.

October 27, 2003 - Britain lags in robot usage: The United Kingdom is lagging far behind the rest of the world in its use of robot technology, industry experts warned today.

The British Automation and Robot Association (BARA) said new figures from the UN showed that UK investment in the field plummeted by 61% last year, but increased across the globe by 26%.

The organization, based at the University of Warwick, has called on the Government to provide more financial support for manufacturers willing to use the machines.

According to the UN report, just 36 robots were used for every 10,000 people employed manufacturing at the end of 2002, compared with 135 in Germany.

This is typical rhetoric from robotics associations. The statistics they cite are silly. Do they mean that in Germany robots replace more workers than they do in Britain? What is so good about that? The last thing either the Germans or the Brits need is more unemployed workers.

I particularly like the call to action for the government. Should the government really invest in displacing workers?

And just because the Brits use less robots than the Germans does not necessarily mean that British factories are less automated or less efficient than German factories. Perhaps the British use more fixed automation and specialized machines. This type of automation can be much faster and more efficient than robots.

October 23, 2003 - Robot performs surgery: For the first time surgeons in the U.S. are operating with four arms at once - and they are using a robot to help them do it. We take you inside the operating room at the Ohio State University Medical Center to see how the technology is working today, and what could be in store for patients in the future. 

Sitting at a console with a 3D television image, Doctor Scott Melvin is using his two hands to manipulate four hands inside the body of his patient. 

Doctor Melvin's fingers are attached to high tech sensors and as he moves his hands to operate in virtual reality, a robot a few feet away mimics his every move, cutting and sewing with the four tiny hands inside the patient - and it does it with remarkable precision. 

The technology was originally developed by the U.S. military, so doctors could send robots onto the battlefield to operate immediately on wounded soldiers and do it from a safe place hundreds of miles away.

This is a great application of telerobotics. The system can be designed so as to provide the surgeon with far greater accuracy than a human alone is capable of. For example, the actual instrument can be programmed to move only one-fifth or one-tenth as much as the surgeon's fingers move. As the technology progresses, force feedback can also be employed. This will allow the surgeon to actually feel the robotic knife as it cuts through delicate tissues. Motion filtering is also a future possibility. This would minimize the effects of small shaking of the human hand and could extend the careers of surgeons whose experience is very valuable, but whose hands are not as steady as they once were.

I do find the comment about the technology being "originally developed by the military" amusing. I'm not sure which specific technology they are referring to. There are very many different technologies at play in a telerobotic system. The military certainly provided some of the funding to the technologies, especially during the development of the atomic bomb. Telerobotics was the only way they could manipulate that nasty stuff.  Still, to say the military originally developed telerobotic systems is a stretch. Leonardo DaVinci, for example, sketched a telerobotic system hundreds of years ago.

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