5 Exciting Types of Robotics Research

  • Emergency Assistance Robots
  • Home Robots
  • Gaming Robots
  • Knowledge Sharing Robots
  • “World’s First” Robots

It’s 2017 and robots continue to make headlines. These past couple of years, news of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robots fly through media outlets. For engineering students, it’s an indication that a robotics degree can be worthwhile if they want to partake in the current development. Below are five trending areas that robotics researchers and engineers are working on.

Related Resource: Top 20 Robotics Engineering Schools in the U.S.

Emergency Assistance Robots

A practical field of research is focused on developing robots for emergency assistance. Robots can be trained to assist people in disaster recovery, perform rescue missions in hazardous conditions, or simply go places that humans can’t go.

A well-known example is Mars rover. Rover robots are built to explore extraterrestrial terrains and search for signs of habitability. Its purpose is for research and development, but there are other applications as well. For example, a team of engineers at Carnegie Mellon University recently dispatched robots to help with rescue missions after an Earthquake. The robots could access places that are difficult for people to get to, detect objects, and deliver supplies.

Home Robots

Home robots are generally developed for consumer convenience. They are programmed to help people with everyday tasks, for example, cleaning a home without human supervision. The Neato D7 is the latest vacuuming robot that has embedded sensors to help it map the layout of a home and remember no-go zones and areas that have already been cleaned. According to Neato developers, there is more room for improvement in how home robots learn about and respond to their environment.

Other home robots are developed to interact with humans. MIT Media Lab has a Personal Robots Group that specializes in human-robot interaction. One of their goals is to create robots to help children learn, assist kids in hospitals, and facilitate parent-children interaction.

Gaming Robots

Then, there are groups making robots for complex problem solving. This area of development focuses more on embedded algorithms rather than motors. One industry leader is DeepMind, whose mission is to develop robots that learn to solve problems autonomously; i.e. DeepMind robots’ thinking abilities are self-taught. For example, the company’s AlphaGo robot is programmed to play a Chinese strategy board game called Go, which involves obtaining territory. The robot gets better by playing game after game. To date, AlphaGo’s thinking strategy can match world-class Go players.

Knowledge Sharing Robots

Per MIT Technology Review, a newer trend in AI is knowledge sharing. Robots are highly sophisticated learners that can also be programmed to teach other robots as well. Learning from another robot is faster than learning alone. The reason is that alone, a robot uses repetition to learn a task like picking up an object; this can take many hours. Yet a robot that’s mastered a task can teach another robot with similar design and motors how to complete the task in a shorter amount of time. Researchers at Brown University who are piloting this knowledge sharing effort are also working on how to improve robots’ learning ability, such as improvising the software that enables robots to fine-tune their actions.

“World’s First” Robots

A large part of engineering is exploring possibilities. For AI development, it’s constantly adding new capabilities to robots. Advancing hardware and software technologies help expand a robot’s decision making, object recognition, and task completion functionalities. These new developments are exciting for researchers and the world.

For example, recently headlines have unveiled the world’s first robots that can make pancakes from a WikiHow article. As well, the world was introduced to robots that have their own knowledge base. New robot skills can amount to the creation of something amazing further down the line.

The research field of artificial intelligence and robotics engineering is ongoing and limited perhaps only by imagination. Robots can be developed for practical tasks that increase consumer convenience. Robots are also promising agents to act in emergency or hazardous situations. The field is exciting for those who want to pursue AI. While specific developments are hard to predict, it’s fair to expect researchers and the tech industry to continue expanding AI capacity and what robots can do in the coming decade.