Robots are just machines, and we can underrate the power of human creativity. Making robots capable of dealing with unexpected things is the key to the future.
Daniel Theobald is the CEO and Founder of Vecna Robotics. Daniel has decades of experience leading research scientists and teams of engineers in developing cutting-edge technology. He has 67 issued patents and more than 30 patents pending. Daniel has also been at the forefront of robotics for more than 20 years, working closely with DARPA, DOD, NASA, NIH, USDA, and others to advance the use of robots and AI software to improve warehouse automation.
Historically we had a large arch of time to get it right. Covid-19 and digital transformation are changing this and making adaptability a critical element for future success. Interoperability poses a massive hurdle for almost every technology. What does the industry need to do by 2030 to ensure machines, humans, and robots work together seamlessly? Robots are just machines, and we can underrate the power of human creativity. Making robots capable of dealing with unexpected things is the key to the future. Historically we had a large arch of time to get it right. Covid-19 and digital transformation are changing this and made adaptability a critical element.
Exception handling is a human skill. If something does not quite go right, robots tend to fail. The key is letting the robot ask for help. Initially, this has been seen as philosophically wrong, but a natural learning process needs to happen. Robots need opportunities to learn with and around humans. Warehousing with robotic arms to be collaborative with humans (bump into something) with force sensors. WAM (whole arm manipulator at MIT). Component arms are complex, and robots tend to use endpoints to do the work and need more and more sensors on robots.
This is a semi-caged environment. The warehouse is the next best place for collaborative robotic systems as there is some level of control.
In the real world, while the first 80% of automation is easy, the last 20% is incredibly tough, with all the edge cases coming into play very quickly. For example, think about how you interact with a car and other vehicles around you. Add to this the fact that the relevant hardware adoption takes time and the new infrastructure needs are costly, and you can see how companies like Nvidia are investing in the infrastructure of the future.
Incorporating human intelligence into the process for co-boting versus pure robots is the key to solve the immediate gap between expectations and reality—the solution for the immediate term.
We cannot misunderstand the complexity here, but there are clear opportunities for collaborative learning.
- On highways, trucking is a perfect next step for co-boting, complex driving with the driver, and on the road, the truck plugs itself into the autonomous lane.
- Drone inspection of crops, fish management, flower arranging (solvable problems where the economic returns are obvious).
- Novelty plays Roomba initially, but we have learned how powerful it can be as they sold enough of them to make it a utility and not a novelty.
- The Holy Grail is a domestic service robot, but it is way too complex. Small tasks are part of this and could be invented. Jetsons Rosie is a long way off.
Moore’s law for robotics cannot happen until we have more to benefit from collaborating than competing this early on in the industry. This idea is that we all produce interactive components to use in the final products (compatibility, standards). Robotics still feels like the 1970s as a complete one company offering. This stunts growth as the robot is not interoperable.
Innovation should allow us to pursue more noble and exciting activities.
We should all be able to be part of a prosperity chain for more and more people produced levels of high societal value add.
Vecna Robotics looks to drive the industry with tens of thousands of hours implementing standards, investment, and user comfort with the robotic future. So which apps should we be focusing on how to create value versus dream ideas.