Monday, March 4, 2019

The Robots Are Coming, But It’s Going to Take People...

from EdTech Digest...

The Robots Are Coming, But It’s Going to Take People to Run Them

by Victor Rivero
How will we do it? Student competitions will fuel the autonomous robotics workforce.
GUEST COLUMN | by Sebastian Castro
Autonomous industrial robots are the way of the future. The International Federation of Robotics expects the number of industrial robots deployed worldwide to increase to around 2.6 million by 2019—about one million units more than in the record-breaking year of 2015.
In the face of such growth, the stationary industrial robots of today will eventually be replaced by more versatile mobile manipulation systems – that is, robots that are able to grasp objects as well as move around an industrial space
It can be challenging for industry to dedicate the resources required to support the research and development of emerging technologies that enable full autonomy.
Student competitions, such as RoboCupIndustrial, are offering a solution by accelerating research and development of autonomous industrial robots with technologies like motion planning, computer vision, and machine learning.
The competition, with support from corporate sponsors, provides a test center for students to gain experience with real-world hardware and software design tools as they build their autonomous industrial robots.
The insights the participants’ research uncovers can then be leveraged by industry and help further the development of a commercially available autonomous workforce.

Accelerating Research and Development of Emerging Technologies

In the RoboCupIndustrial competition, students design autonomous robots that can perceive their environment and provide increased input and output with superhuman consistency while accomplishing more diverse tasks—tasks the prior generation of stationary robots could not accomplish.
Student teams in RoboCupIndustrial are typically supported by research labs or companies, and their competition work has the potential of becoming trendsetting technology that can influence how commercial products are designed.
The students are at the forefront of integrating emerging technologies such as deep learning and reinforcement learning into their designs, enabling the robots to “learn” on the job. Two competitions under the RoboCupIndustrial umbrella, RoboCup@Work and RoboCup Logistics League, illustrate how student competitors are driving the research and development of a potentially fully autonomous workforce by designing intelligent robots.
During RoboCup@Work, students design robots that can navigate their environment and perform tasks that mimic an actual assembly or factory process. These fully mobile robots can manipulate objects and perform complicated functions like transporting materials, picking materials off conveyor belts, and handling precision parts placement.
RoboCup Logistics League challenges competitors to synchronize multiple autonomous robots by enabling them to communicate with each other and choreograph tasks to achieve common goals like packing boxes or processing orders.

Industry and Competition Collaboration

Because industry benefits from these competitions, companies are increasingly providing students with support to accelerate their research efforts. RoboCupIndustrial sponsors, such as MathWorks, provide students with real-world hardware and software tools, like MATLAB, and technical expertise, which helps simplify complex concepts and limits the amount of time spent on basic coding. Access to such tools also allows competition teams to spend more time implementing their algorithms and writing papers or developing new approaches to robotics design.
Companies benefit by receiving feedback on their tools and getting insights into how students use them in their robot designs. These insights can be leveraged across the company, shared with other research organizations, and incorporated into their product development workflows.
The collaboration between student competitions and industry is driving the research of commercially viable, fully autonomous industrial robots. Student teams and the insights they provide to sponsoring companies further robotics product development efforts and move us closer to robots that provide practical commercial applications. Such partnerships are opening a path to a more fully autonomous robotics future.
Sebastian Castro is a multidisciplinary robotics engineer with a passion for education and lifelong learning. He is an education evangelist at MathWorks, preparing and supporting next generation scientists and engineers with software, training, and mentoring to tackle the same technical issues as professional engineers. His interests include modeling and simulation, control systems, computer vision, AI, and software development. Contact him through LinkedIn.

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