The Davos Special

"Elder care is going to be the real draw for robots"

Rethink Robotics' founder Rodney Brooks believes that the best is yet to come for the robotics industry

Photo: Shiftcomm.com

Rodney Brooks can’t help but chuckle when you point out Hollywood’s obsession with robots running amok. To begin with, unlike in movies, robots in real life cannot write or rewrite the codes that can bring them on par with or make them superior to mankind. But they can definitely be made smarter and work more efficiently for humans and that is what the former MIT professor is engaged in with his start-up Rethink Robotics. With close to $100 million funding in its kitty already, Rethink is gaining in the popularity stakes thanks to its industrial production robot called Baxter. Brooks is no longer confining his research to industrial robots, having created a new version of bots that can be safely deployed in research labs. While he does see robotics getting up, close and personal with artificial intelligence, he is critical about Honda’s humanoid robot Asimo. In an interaction with Outlook Business, the 60-year-old indulges in a bit of crystal-gazing for the robotics industry.

How has the robotics industry evolved in recent years? 

Robotics research has been going on in universities in Europe, Japan and the US over the past 30 years or so. In the US, a lot of it is being funded by Darpa (defense advanced research projects agency) and the National Science Foundation (creator of the original internet under the NSFNET programme). The research is aimed at finding ways for robots to be deployed beyond traditional automation. 

 

Uptime for robots

US venture capital investments in robotics technology companies have significantly increased post-2010

I believe that sustained research funding coupled with the effect of consumer electronics products such as smartphones, which have made cameras and global positioning systems (GPS) really cheap, have helped the cause of robotics. Over the past decade, we’ve had 50 years of Moore’s law, considering the quantum of computation we now have in an embedded, low-cost system to enable real-time sensing and 3D sensing. [Gordon

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