Rod Brooks recently gave a talk at Maker Faire, where he gave some motivation behind the new company he’s starting. No details at all on what kind of robot we’ll see from them, but a nice articulation of why the US needs robots in order to have any chance of staying competitive in the manufacturing domain.
The punchline: robots can allow the US worker to be more productive and cost-effective than outsourcing, which would drive manufacturing jobs back to the US. The main challenge here is that current robots in manufacturing (like the one pictured above) are big and dangerous, so people can’t safely work side-by-side with them. Thus we need a new class of robots that can safely work cooperatively with ordinary people. Robots can do mundane tasks leaving people to do the more skilled tasks.
This is a great challenge problem, one that I’ve been thinking about recently as well, since it is an excellent example of a real application where Human-Robot Interaction is a key factor in determining the robot’s success. Very exciting that Rod is aiming his star power at this domain.