Understanding robotics

  • Professor Daniela Rus introduces the world of robots. She touches on computation in motion and different robot forms, and highlights some potential future applications of robots. She also explores advances in autonomous driving.
    • most robots are built for specific tasks.
    • Automated devices that perform physical tasks in the real world.
    • Ways that humans and robots can be more effective together. trusted partners. 
    • Computation in motion
    • Sensors to actuators
    • Come in many different shapes/forms
    • advances in HW and algorithms driving automated cars.
      • Cheap Sensors and Actuators
      • Body and brain
        • Body: sensing
        • Body: Computation
        • Body: Actuation
        • Body: communication
        • Brain: Algorithms
  • Professor Rus delves more deeply into the topic of autonomous vehicles. She describes the two different phases of autonomous systems and the architecture of the systems now being developed. This includes how autonomous vehicles rely on planning and control, localization, and feature vectors to get from a starting location to a destination. A feature vector is a list of numbers representing an object’s important characteristics, such as size, shape, color, and brightness. She also explains parallel autonomy: when a system corrects a driver’s errors by making small adjustments, such as turning the wheel to ensure safety.
    • Two phases for autonomous vehicles
      • Phase 1 – Maps the environment, map is a feature space.
      • Phase 2 – Plans a path and executes from start to destination, perception
        • localization
        • detect obstacles
    • perception is performed by looking for features, to identify uniquely most locations in the world
      • curvatures of curbs
      • textures of buildings surrounding roads
    • From normals, you can extract out features to form curves, etc..
    • have a virtual bumper, to give enough time to create an alternative movement plan
    • import traffic rules, but know when to break the rules per Vienna convention
      • IMU (Inertial measurement unit)
    • Series Autonomy: either human or computer is in control. Think Google
    • Parallel Autonomy: human in control, but “guardian agent” is there. A Shared Controller works between human and Series Autonomy system.
  • Professor Rus examines the applications of autonomous vehicles by using two examples: an autonomous vehicle trial in Singapore and the potential impact of driverless taxis in New York City. She also discusses technological and policy challenges associated with the adoption of autonomous vehicles.
    • Cars and public transportation system are connected.
    • Algorithm Optimal path for single vehicle, pooling. system implemented using taxi data in NYC
    • autonomy and ride sharing can transform in to a utility, reduce congestion, decrease pollution, improve quality of life.
    • what’s hard
      • congestion
      • human gestures
      • bad weather, poor visibility
      • high speeds
    • Computer vision is getting better, but perception is still lacking
    • Policy is lagging.
    • How:
      • dedicate lanes
      • parallel autonomy
      • automated logisitics/highways
  • Professor Malone interviews Professor Rus to discuss four topics: 
    • Why the robots in use today don’t walk around like robots in sci-fi movies?
      • Important to think about capabilities of body, relative to task.
      • legged robots are hard in the real world. Where to place the next leg. Boston Scientific.
      • Robot would need extraordinary perceptions and agility of motion.
    • What is easy and what is hard in robotics?
      • easy
        • mobility is easier than manipulation.
        • will we see a flying car first, or Level 5  vehicle?
      • hard
        • manipulation, but soft robotics are advancing… will have greater compliance like human manipulation.
        • Must be able top figure things out on their own.
        • better at interacting with people
        • making new robot bodies faster.
    • How people and robots are likely to interact?
      • Working side by side.
      • Shared control of certain tasks. they should be able to override each other.
      • leveraging each others best assets, being better together.
    • The kinds of robots, besides self-driving vehicles, that are mostly likely to be used in business in coming years?
      • that a machine and human working together will be better than individually.

Business applications of robotics

  • Professor Malone discusses the three other main ways robotics are being used today: 
    • in factories…
      • to perform miscellaneous physical services. 
      • deliver, manipulate, locate physical objects
  • Sensing, Computation, and Actuation
  • Factory robotics:
    • Acorn Sales Company, a small manufacturing company, talk about how they have deployed a robot called Sawyer, built by Rethink Robotics, to improve productivity.
      • Gained acceptance from employees to do the dull and dirty tasks of lifting and positioning material onto conveyer belts and sawing and drilling wood.
      • Acorn uses Sawyer as part of its cost leadership strategy to be able to keep prices in line with those of competitors. Goals:
        • Less reliant on other suppliers
        • increase quality
        • keep prices in line with competitors
        • business continuity
    • Baxter can learn from EEG sensor connected humans who provide reinforcement through thought.
  • Warehouse robotics:
    • Kiva’s robots have revolutionized operations at Amazon’s warehouses. To achieve efficiency gains, Amazon re-engineered its warehouse processes based on Kiva’s capabilities, rather than trying to fit the machines into existing processes.
    • The use of robots in warehouses enables productivity improvements, thus supporting a company’s cost leadership strategy, particularly in times of labor shortages. Robots can lift and move heavier loads, bringing items to easy reach of human workers who then select the products to fulfill each customer order. 
    • From a competitive advantage standpoint, it’s interesting to note that Amazon acquired Kiva Systems, renamed it Amazon Robotics, and then chose not to renew the contracts Kiva had with other companies, thereby confining the technology to Amazon and keeping it out of the hands of competitors.  
  • Performing miscellaneous physical services:
    • Savioke’s robots, Relay and Botlr, are armless robots used in hotels to transport amenities autonomously to guests’ rooms. In the next two videos, Professor Malone interviews Savioke’s CTO and Chief Robot Whisperer, Dr. Tessa Lau, to find out more about Savioke’s robots, their appeal to customers, and their implications for business strategy.
    • Dr. Lau provides an overview of the role of Savioke’s Relay robot in hotels. She talks about how Relay moves around hotels to deliver items to hotel guests, and she discusses the benefits of using a robot like Relay in the hospitality industry. She also mentions how Savioke’s robots are used in other industries. Professor Malone and Dr. Lau discuss how Savioke has created robots that navigate through human spaces and the company’s focus on human-robot interaction design.
    • Notes:
      • deliver robots for indoor space. Relay is for hospitality. controls elevator through wifi…
        • Highest turnover in the US… Robots provide consistency, at a lower price point deliver less than 5 min predictably
        • FedEx uses 7 robots, repair facility, relay brings parts to them as they need them. (like Kiva)
      • focused on human spaces. Robots that are safe for people. Makes Relay very aware of surroundings. 
      • Human-Robot interaction design.
        • Politeness, 
        • Asks for help, 
        • Human has empathy for robot.
      • Anthropomorphizing robots
        • By making him cute and approachable increase adoption, actually protects him in the real world…
    • Professor Malone asks Dr. Lau to expand on the AI technology that drives the Relay robot, and they discuss the qualities that Relay has in contrast to a human employee. Dr. Lau highlights some of the limitations and challenges that Relay still faces, and she concludes by providing advice to people who are interested in using robotics.
      • Notes:
        • primary technology is robot navigation/path finding. How do I get from one point to another safely, within constraints and obstacle….to construct a plan….use AI to actively replan.
        • biggest competitor is human labor.. but brings reliability, consistency, automation, and predictably.
        • limitations/Barriers:
          • How to make relay safe in some environments, (e.g. escalators, stairs, 
            • limited to wheelchairs can go. ADA creates standards that robots can use.
          • Still needs to be programmed to do the task. The more you can cast your problem in the eyes of repetition. Maybe processes need to change to become structed for repetition, you don’t have to think.
    • Key points and strategy
      • Robots that operate in the same environments as humans must have enough understanding of their surroundings and of the humans in them, so they can navigate those environments safely. This requires machine vision (like autonomous vehicles have), as well as “path finding” (the ability to get from Point A to Point B even though there may be many ways to get there). The robot must also be able to reprogram if the environment changes, such as if a person steps into its path or the robot ends up on the wrong floor.  
      • One reason to give a robot a human “face” and “personality” is to encourage empathy for the robot. Just as babies have big eyes to trigger an emotional connection, a robot that can create an emotional connection will be more accepted and be perceived as trustworthy by people. Savioke designs its Relay robots with attention to making them “polite” in interactions with humans.
      • A delivery robot can perform certain tasks less expensively than human labor can, supporting a cost-leadership strategy in industries such as hospitality that have high turnover requiring training of new workers. However, there are many tasks robots cannot do, and thus they cannot replace human workers entirely. A delivery robot can help to ensure consistency of service, thereby also supporting a differentiation strategy. For example, a hotel brand could advertise that a guest, staying in any of its properties, could expect room service delivery within 5 minutes, because that is the typical time it takes a delivery robot like Relay to fulfill a housekeeping request.
    • Robots are currently deployed in factories and warehouses, and sometimes behind fences or in restricted areas to keep them separate from humans, for safety reasons. But as robots become increasingly able to distinguish humans from other objects, they are becoming safe enough to operate in the same physical spaces as humans, such as in hotels and restaurants. Organizations that automate manual tasks so that robots can perform them can potentially reduce errors and lower costs while improving efficiency and quality, often all at once. In many settings, the most successful outcomes have been achieved through robots and people working together, each doing the tasks that are easiest for them to do.