Most would expect the biggest draw of a robotics conference to be the shiny new robots and technology on display, or stories about the latest breakthroughs in artificial intelligence. However, for Jeremy Marvel, a research scientist and project leader at the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, MD, it’s the human element of the event that’s the biggest draw for him.
RoboBusiness reached out to Dr. Marvel to share his thoughts on robotics, artificial intelligence, his job at NIST, and his upcoming session at RoboBusiness.
Dr. Marvel’s research focuses on intelligent and adaptive solutions for robot applications, with particular attention paid to human-robot and robot-robot collaborations, multirobot coordination, industrial robot safety, machine learning, perception, and automated parameter optimization. He currently leads a team of scientists and engineers in metrology efforts at NIST toward collaborative robot performance, and developing tools to enable small and medium-sized enterprises to effectively deploy robot solutions.
At RoboBusiness, Dr. Marvel will be speaking in the session Increasing Productivity with Cobots, which will discuss the ways end users can ensure that their investment into automation goes further than just replicating existing processes, but takes advantage of the strengths of both humans and robots to streamline production.
What got you interested in robotics and artificial intelligence, and how is it connected to your work at NIST?
I’ve always had some level of fascination with both robotics and AI, but it wasn’t until I got to college that I began pursuing both.
At the time, I was interested primarily in biologically-inspired sensing, learning and robotics, but was somewhat disappointed in the lack of practical examples to escape the laboratory and enter the market.
Soon thereafter I started working in applying AI and machine learning to real-world tasks, which set me down the path to where I am now. Internships with for-profit SBIR and industry companies gave me insights to the requirements of the technology consumers, as well as the metrics by which the acheivement of these requirements are assessed.
My work at NIST continues along these lines, as we are working to develop the metrics and test methods by which the performance of collaborative robot systems may be assessed and assured.
Which emerging technology or application excites you the most?
One of the most promising emerging technologies, to me, is the realization of the Industrial Internet of Things. It has the potential to revolutionize the entire manufacturing supply chain, dramatically advancing the capabilities of the workforce and businesses by enabling advances in planning, diagnostics, and process adaptability in real time.
Without an appropriate cybersecurity and information quality assurance infrastructure, however, there is just as much potential for danger. The exchange of and instant access to high quality information can revolutionize the entire manufacturing process, but also opens the window for misuse, reliance on noisy or incorrect information, and malicious attacks.
What are the biggest barriers to continued growth of the autonomous systems market?
The two single-largest barriers I see are the ease-of-use and the performance reliability of autonomous systems. Many automation solutions on or entering the market are driven by the establish market infrastructure. That established market is already adept with integrating and using automation technology, but emerging markets (most notably the small- and medium-sized manufacturers who are just beginning to explore using automation) do not necessarily have the same experience.
Being able to provide automation solutions that meet their expectations in a way that enables them to actually start using the technology sooner is a significant challenge. Technology developers, integrators, and sellers will be hard-pressed to deliver solutions that will demonstrably show that buying into automation solutions is a worthwhile risk.
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Where do you expect robotics and AI use to grow the most in the next five years, and why?
In a single word: mobility. As manufacturing environments become increasingly lean and agile, the ebb and flow of production will necessitate more flexibility in terms of the placement and utilization of equipment on the factory flow. Modularity and reconfigurability are thus going to be key, and nothing embodies this better than mobile platforms, be they self-guided or manually moved.
The challenge will thus be getting workers, software, controllers, and data links to be adaptable enough to accommodate (with appropriate levels of performance reliability) the potential for frequent changes in part flow, and equipment location and configuration.
What do you think your session offers to the robotics developer and end-user community?
The market has been flooded with new automation technologies such as collaborative robots, and every day I see fresh testimonials and editorials about the benefits of integrating “smart” technologies and adopting “smart” practices.
Very rarely do I actually see an actual business case being built, however, and I think the push for automation and adaptive technology may be a false panacea.
I believe this session will help provide a more realistic perspective in that integrating robotic technologies (even collaborative robotics) is an investment. The benefits of using automation are real and measurable, yet not every application will pay off equally.
This session offers the community a realistic perspective on the benefits and limitations of robotic technologies, the applications to which they are best applied, and their potential for growth in the market.
What are you most looking forward to about being at RoboBusiness?
Ironically enough, it’s the human element at RoboBusiness I am looking forward to the most. I enjoy events such as RoboBusiness because they attract a wide spectrum of developers, integrators, end users, and regulators for the express purpose of establishing dialogues regarding the application and evolution of robotic technologies.
I enjoy interacting with and learning from these stakeholders, and gaining insights about their unique opportunities and challenges.