Get Ready for a Robotic Future

One robotics expert envisions that robots will take on tedious tasks and dominate jobs in such fields as manufacturing and elderly care.

by Jordan Graham, Tribune News Service / September 25, 2014
An urban search and rescue robot moves across a rubble pile during a NIST/DHS exercise. Photo courtesy of the National Institute of Standards and Technology National Institute of Standards and Technology

Robots will be used to inspect fruit, bring pills to senior citizens and play an even larger role in manufacturing in the not-too-distant future, according to leading experts in the field.

“I’m worried we’re not going to have enough robots in the world soon,” said Rodney Brooks, founder of Rethink Robotics and iRobot. “There’s going to be a pull for robotic technology.”

Speaking at EmTech MIT hosted by MIT Technology Review yesterday, Brooks said robots will take on more and more tasks that people find tedious and often don’t want to do. He envisions robots taking over some — but not all — jobs in fields such as manufacturing and elderly care.

“Now you’re starting to see robotic automation in areas you’ve never seen before,” said Dan Kara, a robotics analyst with ABI Research.

Kara said that could include tasks such as automated food inspection — for example detecting if an apple is rotten.

The key to the robotic future, according to Julie Shah, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is advancements now emerging in computing, and sensors.

“There are huge swaths of work that are very difficult for robots to do today,” Shah said. “I expect we’ll see big leaps.”

One big challenge, said Shah, is to ensure robots can work safely alongside people.

“The next big thing ... is to enable machines to work with humans,” Shah said. “It’s the right time to begin taking these pieces together.”

©2014 the Boston Herald