How Democratization Will Advance Robotics Across Industries

Getting industrial robots to work together easier is a goal for making them easier to use.

August 26, 2019      

It’s hard not to get excited when you hear Howie Choset, Ph.D., start talking about a particular problem in robotics or some of the latest trends in the space. His high energy and infectious smile draw you in as you listen to him talk about his career, and many of the innovations that have made him a leader in the robotics research world.

Howie Choset Carnegie Mellon UniversityChoset, the Kavcic-Moura Professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University, will bring that energy and excitement to the opening keynote for RoboBusiness 2019, scheduled for the morning of Wednesday, Oct. 2, in Santa Clara, Calif. The session, titled “AI to the Rescue: The Future of Advanced Robotics in Manufacturing,” will discuss the steps that U.S. manufacturers will need to take to keep up with other parts of the world, as well as how “democratization of robots” will transform robotics across several industries beyond manufacturing.

Robotics Business Review recently spoke with Choset ahead of the keynote to get a sneak peek about what he plans to discuss with the RoboBusiness 2019 audience.

Embracing robotics

Choset said he had four main objectives to discuss around the topic of using robotics in manufacturing. “First, we want to increase competitiveness of the United States,” said Choset. “We want to create jobs, and then assert the United States as the leader in manufacturing and robotics. Finally, we want to make it so small companies can embrace manufacturing.”

One of the big ways to do this is through developing robots that can be easier to install and use than robotics that require a Ph.D. to operate, he said. “About 25 to 30 years ago, there was the Unix operating system,” Choset said. “If you wanted to install some software, you download this giant piece of software, unpack it and start implementing it. Then every so often you’d have to interact with the installation process, and you get good at understanding Unix. Then before you know it, you need a degree in computer science to install Unix software. Right? That’s not to criticize Unix, because that was so much better than it was 30 years before that. But today, if I want to install Outlook on my phone, I just download it and I’m done. Easy peasy. I don’t think we’re anywhere near that goal [in robotics].”

Choset said that for 80% of the robot tasks today, a downloadable app type of scenario should be possible, but that it will still take some time to get there, through software development, algorithms, and other software engineering.

But the democratization of robotics isn’t just limited to the manufacturing space, he said. As an example, Choset cited his work in developing snake-like robotics that were used to develop surgical robots. “Some of the robots I developed can allow non-surgeons to perform surgeries that in the past only surgeons could do,” he said. “That’s an example of the democratization of robotics in one space.”

One of the companies that Choset help found, HEBI Robotics, creates a platform of modular hardware and software tools that lets researchers and others create customized, world-class robots quickly and easily.

In comparing the development of robotics to either the PC industry or smartphone, Choset admits that different hardware designs (for example, cobot arms vs. mobile robots vs. humanoid designs vs. aerial drones) might make it difficult for robot makers to create a one-size-fits-all kind of design. However, he agreed that within manufacturing, there should be a standard set of hardware and interoperability between industrial robots, as well as better ease of installation.

Additional topics that Choset plans to discuss during his RoboBusiness keynote include how smaller companies can adopt manufacturing technologies, the rise of collaborative robots and whether it will disrupt the market, the issue of robots and job creation, and how the industry should be working with unions for the purposes of job creation as well as finding good uses for robots.

About RoboBusiness 2019

RoboBusiness 2019 will feature more than 60 exhibitors, 50+ speakers, the MassRobotics Startup Boot Camp, the Chief Robotics Officer Summit, the second annual workshop on Big Data, networking receptions, the annual Pitchfire startup competition, and more surprises. Full conference passes are $795, the Startup Boot Camp is $295, and expo-only passes are only $45!. Special pricing ends September 19, so register today to experience the most influential and innovative robotics conference Oct. 1-3 in Santa Clara, at RoboBusiness 2019.