Introduction to Robots and the Future


Welcome to the very last lecture in our online course, Introduction to Robotics. Congratulations to those of you who have made it this far.

I want to do something a bit different in this particular lecture and talk perhaps less about technology and algorithms, and software and so on, and get into some perhaps bigger picture ideas about robots and where they fit into society. Why robots are important.

Now, It's been, as I say, quite a journey. We've talked about the history of robots, mankind's fascination with building things in the image of living organisms, in this case, the famous digesting duck from many hundreds of years ago. We've talked about fascination with automata. These lifelike machines which were able to do reasonably complex tasks by the standards of the day. For instance, a figurine of a person with mechanical innards that was able to do quite complex drawings. For instance, the drawing here of a ship. And this is from the 1800's.

And then, around the Second World War technology started to evolve at a very rapid rate, and this sort of technology - really the precursor of robots. Manipulation system allowed scientists and engineers to manipulate radioactive material at the distance. And this is really, in my belief, the sort of precursor technology to modern industrial robots.

And the first industrial robots were developed by this company Unimation Inc. which was founded in 1956, first products went into service in the very early 1960's. So, this sort of manufacturing robot, the arm robot, builds stuff, very, very important to our society. It's a very old technology now. It's getting on towards 60 years.

So, we've talked about this evolution of robotic technology, and we've also talked about what makes this technology tick. We've talked about how to build robots. We've talked about how we represent the pose of objects in the work space. We've talked about forward kinematics, inverse kinematics, and Jacobians and joint control and rigid body dynamics. These are all the fundamental principles that are really important if you are building an arm type robot. These are the things that we've learnt in this 60 years since this technology was first conceived. The technology came first and the theory, the mathematics that we've learned about, came later.

These robots are really important to modern industry. Here’s a picture of this kind of robot, building motor cars and they also build computers and move packages around in factories and so on. There's more than a million of these arm type robot and work on planet Earth today.

More recently there is this new class of robots. We call them service robots or field robots. And, this is an example of a service robot. It's a robot that performs a service to a human being. And this service in this particular case is cleaning my floor. And these robots have become phenomenally popular, more than 10 million of these robots sold. These only have been around for only about a decade. Manufacturing robot had been around for nearly 60 years. There's only a million of them. In just 10 over years, we have 10 millions of these. And the reasons are that these robots are much cheaper than the manufacturing robots. The sort of thing that a person can afford, a person would like to have, because it provides real value. It performs a greatly useful task around the house.

So, this is very much the future of robots. There's going to be robots that work with us that are low cost and useful. Of course in the future, there's going to be many other sorts of robot. Perhaps the next sort of robot that we are going to encounter en masse, I think it's going to be the self driving car. The Google self driving car project has got a lot of press, and all of the major automotive companies are working on self driving cars. And this is a technology some people believe it might be with this by the year 2020. Time will tell. But I believe, this is the next robot technology we all encounter on an everyday basis.

So, why robots? What's the big picture reason for having robots in the world? And I think if you look at the big problems that our planet faces right now, come primarily from population growth. If we look what population growth is going to do over the coming decades, what you can see on this slide here is a prediction of robot population. And by the year 2020, its believed that there will be a hundred million robots at work on the planet.

Now, not all of these are going to be the classic manufacturing robots. Many of them are going to be for instance robot cars, or robot vacuum cleaners, perhaps robot gardeners, robot maids, who knows what. But this is the sort of new class of robot that's emerging and the number of these is just going to increase, perhaps exponentially.

What I want to do now is talk about the big picture reasons why I believe that we need robots. This picture illustrates some of the big problems that are facing society now, and increasingly in coming decades. The problems that we face are due to increased human population on the planet. There are more people in the planet. It means, we need to provide more food. This is going to require more transport requirement. There's going to be more cars on the road, more people, more things going from one place to another. And this population of ours gets older there's going to be a need for more health care.

As the population get's older, we are going to have an imbalance in the age ratios. There's going to be more older people and less younger people to support them. And this is a problem that is confronting almost country on the planet today. And it is very profound problem. I think we don't really have handle, a good solution, on what we are going to do about that. But I believe the robots can play an important role here.

The other problem that we are facing is climate change. As the climate of our planet changes, it's going to have real impacts on where people are able to live where the amount of water that would be available, and the amount of food that we can produce. So, very big picture problems, very complex and all interrelated. And I believe that robots can play a very positive role in ameliorating some of these problems. And that's what I want to talk about in this particular lecture.

The other thing that I want to talk about in this lecture, and I think it's an important one, is the ethical considerations around robotics. Now, I'm not an ethicist, I'm a roboticist. And I’m going to talk to an ethicist later in this lecture and just try and unpack what are some of the issues about ethics that apply to robotics.

We are going to have a discussion, we’re going to do a bit of an ethics 101, learn some fundamental principles of ethics, and then look at issues such as; is it appropriate for robots to look after elderly people or young people; what are the ethical issues with robots driving cars on our roads; what are the issues around invasion of privacy; what about robots in jobs. Every time I give a talk about robots, somebody asks the question, "Aren’t robots going to take away jobs?" I don't think it’s that simple.

And in this lecture, we’d like to unpack some of these issues, talk about them at length. At least give you something to think about, argue about. I think it's important that we have this particular conversation. 


There is no code in this lesson.

We will discuss some important non-technical aspects of robotics. What are the problems facing our society that robots might help to address? There are lots of tasks that robots could do, but should they? What are the ethical considerations around robots? Why are people scared of robots?

Professor Peter Corke

Professor of Robotic Vision at QUT and Director of the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision (ACRV). Peter is also a Fellow of the IEEE, a senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, and on the editorial board of several robotics research journals.

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