Professor Julie Shah with graduate students Ron Wilcox, center, and Matthew Gombolay coordinate human-robotic interaction while developing an algorithm that lets factory robots predict humans' movements. (Source: William Litant/MIT)
ricardo, you're joking, right? The person in the photo holding the clipboard may be posing as a supervisor for the photo, but she's actually the head researcher in the team. Eliminate her and you would eliminate the research.
Chuck, why am I not surprised? I thought some more about the safety issue, and looked at the photo again. The fact is, the small robot arm is holding a brush and the human's arm is holding a drill. I'm more afraid of what the human might do than of what the robot will do. Notice my different use of verbs.
During one of the DARPA races a few years ago, Ann, they mixed real drivers (i.e., rogue vehicles) with autonomous cars. They found that the robot cars were obeying the rules, while the human drivers were blowing stop signs and traffic signals.
I've also noticed the frequent connections between industry or the military for funding and/or equipment, and universities for R&D expertise, in a lot of the robot research I'm reporting. There do seem to be many more partnerships like this and a lot more activity in robot research in the last decade or so.
In the picture, I see the potential for huge cost savings and increased efficiency. The supervisor holding the clipboard would be trivial to robotise. This would replace the most expensive and inefficient component. As the supervisor can be programmed not to speak, there will be even greater savings in efficiency from the workers, human or robot.
Robot "surgeons" are actually sophisticated, precision instruments working as an extension of the human surgeon's hands, guided by optics/machine vision. The robots in this article are standalone, separate industrial one- or two-armed robots "observing" a disconnected human. I can see this research being useful for other types of medical robots, such as assistants of various kinds. The main purpose, at present, is for assisting humans in relatively routine tasks that can yet be done in a non-routine, individualized way.
The isolation described in the article is for safety. The weakness in the the technology described is safety.
The image shows a worker wearing a glove with what one can assume is transmitters which the robot can use to track the worker. Let's stipulate that Human Safety will be designed into the system from the start, and that such safety technology is accepted by the governing bodies (EN 13849). That takes into account the operator, wearing the transmitter (or RFID chip, or whatever). The operator is protected, but what about people not wearing the device?
This seems not so much taking the robot out of the cell, but putting a human inside with it. The cell would still need protective barriers (physical or light curtain) for the non-operators in the area.
The term "cell" has more than one definition in this conversation...
Another fascinating story, Ann. There's seems to be a real escalation of robots research in just the last few years. It's interesting the different organizations that are supporting the research, from the military to universities and industry. It's good to see Boeing and ABB contributing to MIT's research.