There’s no better place to check out the current state of robotics and maybe even sneak a peek at the future than on the conference circuit. And in recent years, the IEEE’s International Conference on Robotics and Automation has become an annual leader, highlighting the bounds of progress made every year in developing new technologies for medicine, robotics, and also just for fun.
The conference began today in Stockholm, Sweden and robots that can deactivate old land mines will mix with those designed to implant catheters and conduct biopsies. It will be weird in the way only the future can be.
Of course, the field of robotics is now so vast, encompassing just about every industry in some way or another, that it’s hard to grasp any individual theme from this year’s conference. There are robots that can use spatulas and unmanned aerial vehicles that know how to walk. But if the conference’s preview videos are any indication, rubber duckies will also play a central role in the Stockholm gathering, if not the future of robotics.
For example, it may not be immediately clear why a drone that can fly would ever need to walk, but with the profusion of flying regulations in the past year, it may one day be necessary for a drone to scamper down driveways to make a delivery. Likewise, drones with dangling arms that lift packages from the ground may also aid the burgeoning drone delivery business.
The conference is also focusing on advances made possible through the use of 3D printing. The technology “allows solids and liquids to be printed together, to create mechanisms that are hydraulically actuated,” permitting “a complex moving robot to be printed in one piece,” the preview video states. 3D printing can also turn out soft robots, made of plastics, that are a lot more gentle than their metallic forefathers.
In addition to robots that can screw in nuts, take care of plants, and even iron clothing, the conference is also sponsoring a few competitions aimed at jump-starting the field in a few areas that could use some disruption. Airbus claims a backlog of over 7,000 airplanes to build and has pledged to reward the developer with the best plan to help it do so. The conference is also hosting its third contest for robots that can disarm landmines left over from war. Clearing mines can be costly and dangerous for humans, and robots would seem to be better suited for the delicate work.
Stretching five days and featuring seminars like “A.I. for Long-Term Autonomy” and “Human 2.0” as well as “Legged Robot Falling: Fall Detection, Damage Prevention, and Recovery Actions” and “Nature vs. Nurture in Robotics,” it’s hard to know exactly what will come of the Stockholm conference.
Every year developers emerge brimming with ideas, and then we feast over their concepts all year. It’s these kind of gatherings where the technologies of the future come into focus. In fact, it’s impossible to know just what to expect.