Putting any part of your body in front of an industrial robot arm is not a smart idea. This sophisticated machine moves quickly and precisely. However, it is so blind and stupid that it may break a limb without so much as an “oops.”
A new chip designed by Realtime Robotics lets the robot “imagine” its actions before it makes a move. Moreover, it rapidly plans out adjustments to its movements. The technology could accelerate factory automation and help keep humans safe.
For example, if a worker happens to reach forward to intercept the movement of the robot as it grasped a part from a table, the robot pauses and deftly moves around the worker’s outstretched arm. It then completes its task with injuring a worker.
Technological Stewardship By Design
Using this chip technology is an excellent example of technological stewardship by design. This kind of elegant adaptability could prove incredibly useful for the robotics industry. Today, the robots that work alongside people tend to be low-power, imprecise, and of limited use. The powerful robots work in controlled environments, away from people.
“Even if you’re not worried about having humans next to the robot, you might want to modify your cell without incurring the cost of bringing in a technician.” — Sean Murray, Realtime Robotics
Welcome to the New Era of the Ai Coworkers
We are not yet living in the golden age of AI. However, we are in the age of AI-enhanced productivity. Let us call it the First Pass Era. Robotics is now powerful enough to make a solid first attempt at many complex tasks, but it is not so powerful that it seems threatening to people. For thought-intensive, subjective work, we still need humans. The labour shift continues to unfold across industries. Most people will have a robotic AI coworker during their career. So, both the people and robots need to adapt to work together.
Robot Movement Problem
“The fundamental challenge is that robots are so stupid. We [humans] have this basic motor competence, and robots don’t.” — George Konidaris, Brown University
Organizations are trying to solve the movement problem. Some are testing sensors that will stop a powerful robot in its tracks should it detect an obstacle. However, Realtime Robotics is going further to supply robots the low-level intelligence needed to move in the real world. Humans and animals take this physical awareness for granted whenever they move an arm or a leg.
Motion planning is deceptively tricky for a robot, partly because each joint adds an extra dimension to the calculations that must be made to guide the smooth movement of the robot.
‘Thinking’ Before Moving
The chip supercharges the mathematical computations behind the motion-planning algorithm that was developed by Konidaris and others. The dedicated chip runs the calculations in parallel. It performs them more than 10,000 times more quickly than a regular computer chip. Also, it uses less power.
Advances in software and hardware are increasing robot Intelligence. This is part of a broader trend. Moreover, the trend is paving the way for more intelligent industrial robots that can be used in powerful new ways. A smarter robot will be able to sit on a production line next to a person. It will be able to figure out how to grab objects regardless of the arrangement. Moreover, it will move without accidentally hurting workers who may enter its path. This innovation will accelerate the spread of automation across many industries.
“Any robot that is going to move around purposefully to achieve goals had better think about how it should move. The challenge is that motion planning is slow when the environment is cluttered, and especially when the robot has many degrees of freedom.” — Tomás Lozano-Pérez, MIT
The rate of change in technology has passed the rate of change of human adaptability. Just because we can build it does not mean we should make it. Technological stewardship fosters technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity. It is essential to the scientific community and professionals everywhere that the contributions of technology improve global conditions.
“As we’re designing the [technological] system, we’re designing society. Ethical rules that we choose to put in that design [impact the society] … Nothing is self-evident. Everything has to be put out there as something that we think will be a good idea as a component of our society.”—Tim Berners-Lee
Better motion planning will be fundamentally important for the future of robotics. Moreover, it is incorporating technological stewardship by design.
Technological stewardship is a new paradigm. It calls on those who create and influence technology to step into a more significant, responsible leadership role. Embracing this role involves expansion of:
- how leaders see their contribution
- who takes part in evolving technology
- the perspectives considered in this evolution
Principles of Technological Stewardship.
|Seek purpose||direct technological development to maximize positive outcomes for all|
|Take responsibility||consider, anticipate and manage the complex impacts of technology across the entire life cycle|
|Expand involvement||integrate a broad range of non-technical experts and ideas into technological development|
|Widen approaches||explore alternative ways to solve problems|
|Advance understanding||spread knowledge about technology and technological stewardship|
|Respect diversity||ensure technological development contributes to creating equity|
|Deliberate values||consider underlying values and make intentional decisions|
Once it was easy for a board to believe technological advances were of only marginal importance to their organizations. Today, many boards are assuming that robotics, AI and blockchain is an immediate and urgent strategic concern only for tech organizations. History suggests otherwise. These technologies are game changers — not just for tech organizations but for everyone. Emerging technologies are a way of life. That is why your board needs a technological stewardship committee. Moreover, it must carefully select its members.
The ultimate success of this innovative technology will depend integrating it for production applications. Furthermore, it opens new possibilities for the robot system design.
An enormous potential application for this technology is self-driving vehicles. These vehicles need to adapt rapidly to complications on the road and quickly decide the safest route around obstacles. Realtime Robotics is developing a version of the chip to address this application. Adding intelligence into systems to make them safer is technological stewardship by design.
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