Mind / Iron
by Bryan Bergeron, Editor ;
2012 IEEE Robotics and Automation Award
The field of robotics
wouldn’t be where it is today
without the work of bright,
dedicated scientists and
engineers. The best of the best
contributors to robotics are
recognized by the annual IEEE
Robotics and Automation
Award. The 2012 award went
to Bernard Roth, Professor of
Engineering at Stanford
University, for “fundamental
contributions to robot
kinematics, manipulation, and
design.” Impressive jargon, but
this doesn’t say much about
Professor Roth and his real part
in making robotics what it is
According to Dr. Roth, he
started out as an engineer
interested in kinematics — the
study of motion — and was
talented at creating machines.
One of the pioneers of the AI
community at Stanford — the
late John McCarthy — wanted a physical means of explaining his theories but had
no experience building things. Roth and McCarthy began collaborating and the
rest, as they say, is history.
I asked Dr. Roth to share his greatest achievement in robotics, expecting that
he’d perhaps mention an algorithm or platform design. Instead, I was surprised
to learn that when he first entered the field, it was full of one-offs — an arm
here, a platform there, etc. — and that the creations were built without a
theoretical basis. Dr. Roth managed to create the science of robotics — that is, to
define the theoretical underpinnings of robotics that applied across all platforms
and designs. He laid the foundation for manipulation, grasping, and other
repeatable robotic operations we take for granted today.
When I asked Dr. Roth to speak to the future of robotics, he first went back
in time, and reminded me that when robotics first emerged in the public arena
the fact that they did anything at all was amazing, regardless of the robot size or
complexity. Today, robots perform tasks elegantly, and we’ve come to expect this
elegance. For the future, Dr. Roth envisions increased miniaturization, even more
elegance, and more integration into everyday life in subtle ways. Eventually, he
sees robotics disappearing into ubiquity.
As a career choice, Dr. Roth is bullish on robotics. He sees ever-expanding
horizons without the dead ends common to other older and established fields.
Now is an excellent time to enter the field because the horizons are unlimited.
I share Dr. Roth’s enthusiasm for the future of robotics, as I’m naturally
drawn to open-ended possibilities. Whether you’re aiming for a degree in
robotics or simply to get that carpet crawler kit working, we all owe Dr. Roth a
round of applause for helping take robotics out of science fiction and into the
world of engineering and hard science. SV
6 SERVO 08.2012
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