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The Global Robotics Brain Project

What are the key robotics trends emerging? The Global Robotics Brain might have the answer

2 min read
The Global Robotics Brain Project

global robotics brain

Why is this man smiling?

Because in his brain resides a database with more than 36,000 robotics companies, robotics labs, robotics projects, robotics researchers, and robotics publications, all categorized, tagged, and linked.

No, not in the brain inside his head. We're talking about the Global Robotics Brain, a project that the man, Wolfgang Heller, started to keep track of the robotsphere.

Inspired by Google's PageRank, Heller, a business intelligence consultant from Sweden, asked himself: Could he use a similar approach to draw a map of interactions between the different robotics players and identify who is doing the most relevant work? What trends are emerging?

In 2005, after a visit to the World Robotics Exhibition in Aichi, Japan, he started to systematically feed his database with anything related to robotics he came across. He then created tools to automate the process. Six years later, the result is a "gigantic mindmap of a broad range of robotics resources," he tells me.

Heller isn't building this brain for fun. His hope is that companies and labs will pay him to access it. A free version is available for students and researchers for personal use; an expanded version with more detailed information is available for organizations on an annual subscription basis.

In the expanded version, you'll find insights on robotics trends that Heller generates periodically (using, we should note, both his brain and the database brain). Here's his latest list of robotics trends:

1. Industrial robotics renaissance. Soft mobile robots start working alongside human workers. Examples: Toyota safe human-robot factory assembling, Festo Bionic Handling Assistant, pi4 Workerbot, Robonaut2).

2. Urban service robotics renaissance. Smart mobile robots enter public space for safe and green city living. Examples: Dustbot, Google autonomous car, ubiquitous robotics, Cyber-Physical-Systems.

3. Civil robotics Renaissance. Transfer of military robotics into civilian robot application. Examples: Telepresence robots, civil UAV & UGV, telesurgery, rescue, Ambient Assisted Living.

4. Robotics toy-to-tool renaissance. New generation reinvents and remixes robotics technology, artificial intelligence, information and communication technologies, nano and biotechnology into new toy-to-tool robot platforms. Examples: Nao, PR2, Kinect, ROS.

5. Robotics promotion renaissance. Governments have recognized robotics as strategic technology that requires R&D investments and public awareness. Examples: National robotics roadmaps, flagship research programs, establishment of centers of excellence, robotics science and amusements parks, national robotics weeks, robotics challenges.

Check out the Global Robotics Brain to see if you envisage other trends. Try to look where the investment is coming from, where the research is taking place, where technology gets commercialized, and so forth. Soon you’ll start feeling like you also have a robotics brain.

Samuel Bouchard is a co-founder of Robotiq.

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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
LightGreen

“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.

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