Get Ready for National Robotics Week

It's the tenth year of the most popular robotics celebration in the U.S.

2 min read
Misty II, a programmable personal robot platform for developers created by Misty Robotics
Misty II, a programmable robot platform for developers created by Misty Robotics.
Image: National Robotics Week via YouTube

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a decade since the first National Robotics Week. A decade ago I was a fledgling robotics blogger and was absolutely convinced that within the next 10 years, robots would be everywhere. That hasn’t quite happened (yet), but robots certainly are a lot more places and doing a lot more things than they were in 2010, and that’s definitely worth celebrating!

National Robotics Week 2019 officially starts this Saturday, and runs from 6 to 14 April. To get everyone excited, the organizers put together this awesome video featuring a lineup of star roboticists: Ayanna Howard (Georgia Tech), Colin Angle (iRobot), Ian Bernstein (Misty Robotics), Kate Darling (MIT Media Lab), Mark Palatucci (Anki), and Rodney Brooks (MIT).

There are all kinds of ways of getting involved with National Robotics Week, with events taking place nationwide—see everything that’s going on here. And since it’s been 10 years, I’m going to appropriate what I wrote for my first post (on about National Robotics Week back in 2010:

If you decide to go to one of these events because you think robots are awesome, bring along someone you know who doesn’t think that robots are awesome, and show them what they’re missing out on. Robotics has an incredible core of devoted people, but part of our job has to be showing everybody else why, and how, robots are going to be an important part of our lives in the future. Not the forever from now flying car jetpack future, but the next few years future. It’s not something anyone needs to be scared of or intimidated by as long as they understand that robots are here to make our lives better, and hopefully National Robotics Week can help spread the word.

It’s not too late to put on an event yourself; even if it’s nothing fancy, there are plenty of ways in which you (as a robotics expert by virtue of reading our blog every day) can add a little bit of extra robotics to the world. For example, a local science museum or public library might let you hang out with your favorite robot and talk to people who come by. I’ve done this with my TurtleBot, and it’s a lot of fun.

And if you can’t make National Robotics Week work for you this year? Don’t worry about it, just treat the other 51 weeks of the year as your own private National Robotics Week by telling everyone you know how great robots are, and we’ll forgive you.

Robot Trading Cards 2019Robot trading cards created by iRobot, Georgia Tech, and IEEE Spectrum to celebrate National Robotics Week.Image: National Robotics Week

Also, we helped curate 12 new robot trading cards for 2019, and you can download decks from all the way back to 2014 if you want to remember what robots were like half a decade ago.

[ National Robotics Week 2019 ]

The Conversation (0)

How the U.S. Army Is Turning Robots Into Team Players

Engineers battle the limits of deep learning for battlefield bots

11 min read
Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman

“I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.”

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

Keep Reading ↓Show less