This feature originally appeared in the August 2013 issue of Trek.
Communication is all about cues – these little gestures, these little nods that we do without even thinking. What I’m excited about doing is reproducing that in a robot. Robotics is the tangible connection between this world of bits and bytes and information, and the physical world.
When I started working as an engineer, people just didn’t expect me. It was like: Who are you? Where’s the engineer? I can see a whole bunch of things that robots can do to make our lives better, and It’s just about moving on and adapting that technology.
We are sitting in a time… it’s like just before computers really happened and everybody had one in their home. In ten years, everyone is going to have robots in their home. It’s just about to happen. It’s so exciting.
The robot should know what it’s supposed to do, and it should know that by observing you, by knowing what you want to achieve. It should be able to understand that and respond appropriately. Being able to program that right – a lot of it is actually good old-fashioned experimentation. We measure grip force, load force, position, velocity, acceleration, jerk, snap, crackle… and then we do some programming – figuring out these equations and trying to come up with clever strategies — and then it ends with people.
Everything that I’m working on is about people. A robot is not a person, but a robot is not an inanimate object. So if my robot makes a mistake or harms someone, am I responsible? Is my robot responsible? Is the manufacturer of the robot responsible? When do people still need to be in control? Those are actually the questions that we have to answer.
It’s always a new problem. It’s always interesting. And we do need both men and women in engineering because that’s how we’re going to get the best solutions in the end. We should take away whatever it is that are these barriers that are preventing other people from having the really great time that I am having.”