Can Robotics Solve Its Diversity Problem?

The area of robotics has been very much diverse and in fact too much diversity in robotics and not many engineers to design and build them. Software is very individual oriented and one robot often will not be in a position to work on any other robot. Artificial intelligence algorithms do include those robots that make use of to identify people as well as objects that tend to reflect their respective developers’ inherent gender and racial biases.

Robot Operating System (ROS) allows programmers to write software that can run on many different types of robots and also freely share that code with the larger robotics community. Engineers had indeed to write most of their robot software from scratch. Functional, workhorse robots (more like R2-D2 than C-3PO), ROS’s impact on robotics are favored.

What makes a machine a “robot”?

That’s a difficult question, and many roboticists will indeed provide different answers. The simplest definition is of course that a robot is a device that does take sensor input and then perform some action that affects the physical world based on its programming and the information it collects. When people do think of robots, often they will immediately think of a mechanical arm, but it’s actually a much broader range of devices.

Why have you focused your efforts on warehouse robots?

One can dabble into different things as far as robots are concerned such as robotics that includes autonomous cars as well as boats, personal robots, educational robots and experimental robots. None of them were useful.

How essential is it to create a robot operating system that could indeed help get roboticists on the same page when building their machines?

Outrageously important if one were to look at all of the things that do happen in robotics over the past eight years, one would definitely look into the Robot Operating System. ROS does provide a communication layer that does pass standard messages between the robot as well as the software controlling it. Before ROS there was no standardization of data format or output. The operating system does also provide a whole bunch of math libraries that enable robots to do transformational math as well as a visualization system that would be onerous for a developer to re-create on their own with each new robot.

What role does one play in developing ROS?

There has been a massive sharing of information on a scale that the robotics community that had never seen. That standardization on a single operating system had indeed the added advantage of making reproducibility possible in robotics, thus meaning researchers could re-create and expand on one another’s work.

Often suggestions have been made to reframe engineering as a discipline. People want to be engineers. They often do not see it as creative field, but one needs engineers who are creative in their thinking.

How can one increase the number of women as well as minorities in engineering impact robotics, and the tech world in general?

Several people are interested in math, science, engineering and robotics but for many reasons do not have the opportunity to pursue those fields. Saying that minorities and women just are not interested in tech or science is indeed a lame excuse. Diversity invites diversity.

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