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)
Ann, this is a very interesting use of robots. It is encouraging that this research is looking at ways for robots to cooperate with humans. Machines are meant to be an extension of ourselves, enabling us to do more in the same amount of time.
I imagine this kind of technology would be particularly useful and important in medical applications where the mindmeld, so to speak, between a robotic surgical tool and the actual human surgeon would ensure the best outcome from a patient standpoint.
Interesting research. There is significant work being done pursuing robots working with humans, and we've featured robots being used as "robotic assistants" in surgery. For use in the factory, I'm sure there are major challenges with safety and other concerns. Thanks.
Nice story, Ann. Yes, working with humans is tough for robots because humans are so unpredictable. Developers of autonomous cars refer to human-driven vehicles as "rogue vehicles." Some suggest that autonomous vehicles could take over the roads today if not for those unpredictable rogues.
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.
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...
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.
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.
It won't be too much longer and hardware design, as we used to know it, will be remembered alongside the slide rule and the Karnaugh map. You will need to move beyond those familiar bits and bytes into the new world of software centric design.
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