Robots and the Humans Who Make Them

Our Chatbot podcast features roboticists in conversation with each other

2 min read

A smiling man kneels with his arm around a squat robot, which has two flipper legs, a boxy body, and glowing eyes on a flat head with two antennae sticking out of the back.

Senior Editor Evan Ackerman [left] meets a new robot from Disney Research at the IROS robotics conference last month.

IEEE Spectrum

WhenIEEE Spectrum editors are putting together an issue of the magazine, a story on the website, or an episode of a podcast, we try to facilitate dialogue about technologies, their development, and their implications for society and the planet. We feature expert voices to articulate technical challenges and describe the engineering solutions they’ve devised to meet them.

So when Senior Editor Evan Ackerman cooked up a concept for a robotics podcast, he leaned hard into that idea. Ackerman, the world’s premier robotics journalist, talks with roboticists every day, and recording those conversations to turn those interviews into a podcast is usually a relatively straightforward process. But Ackerman wanted to try something a little bit different: bringing two roboticists together and just getting out of the way.

“The way the Chatbot podcast works is that we invite a couple of robotics experts to talk with each other about a topic they have in common,” Ackerman explains. “They come up with the questions, not us, which results in the kinds of robotics conversations you won’t hear anywhere else—uniquely informative but also surprising and fun.”

Each episode focuses on a general topic the roboticists have in common, but once they get to chatting, the guests are free to ask each other about whatever interests them. Ackerman is there to make sure they don’t wander too far into the weeds, because we want everyone to be able to enjoy these conversations. “But otherwise, I’ll mostly just be listening,” Ackerman says, “because I’ll be as excited as you are to see how each episode unfolds.”

We think this unique format gives the listener the inside scoop on aspects of robotics that only the roboticists themselves could get each other to reveal. Our first few episodes are already live. They include Skydio CEO Adam Bry and the University of Zurich professor Davide Scaramuzza talking about autonomous drones, Labrador Systems CEO Mike Dooley and iRobot chief technology officer Chris Jones on the challenges domestic robots face in unpredictable dwellings, and choreographer Monica Thomas and Amy LaViers of the Robotics, Automation, and Dance (RAD) Lab discussing how to make Boston Dynamics’ robot dance.

We have plenty more Chatbot episodes in the works, so please subscribe on whatever podcast service you like, listen and read the transcript on our website, or watch the video versions on the Spectrum YouTube channel. While you’re at it, subscribe to our other biweekly podcast, Fixing the Future, where we talk with experts and Spectrum editors about sustainable solutions to climate change and other topics of interest. And we’d love to hear what you think about our podcasts: what you like, what you don’t like, and especially who you’d like to hear on future episodes.

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