2022 was a huge year for robotics. Yes, I might say this every year, and yes, every year I might also say that each year is more significant than any other. But seriously: This year was the best. After a tough pandemic (which, let’s be clear, is still not over), conferences and events have started to come back, research has resumed, and robots have continued to make their way into the world. It really has been a great year.
And on a personal note, we’d like to thank you, all of you, for reading (and hopefully enjoying) our work. We’d be remiss if we didn’t also thank those of you who provide awesome stuff for us to write about. So, please enjoy this quick look back at some of our most popular and most impactful stories of 2022. Here’s wishing for more and better in 2023!
Robotic technology can be a powerful force for good, but using robots to make the world a better place has to be done respectfully. This is especially true when what you’re working on has a direct physical impact on a user, as is the case with bionic limbs. Britt Young has a more personal perspective on this than most, and in this article, she weaved together history, technology, and her own experience to explore bionic limb design. With over 100,000 views, this was our most popular robotics story of 2022.
After Elon Musk announced Tesla’s development of a new humanoid robot, we were left wondering whether the car company would be able to somehow deliver something magical. We found out this year that the answer is a resounding “Not really.” There was nothing wrong with Tesla Bot, but it was immediately obvious that Tesla had not managed to do anything groundbreaking with it, either. While there is certainly potential for the future, at this point it’s just another humanoid robot with a long and difficult development path ahead of it.
Usually, the kinds of things that humans are really good at and the kinds of things that robots are really good at don’t overlap all that much. So, it’s always impressive when robots get anywhere close to human performance in activities that play to our strengths. This year, autonomous drones from the University of Zurich managed for the first time to defeat the best human pilots in the world in a “fair” drone race, where both humans and robots relied entirely on their onboard brains and visual perception.
Gill Pratt has a unique perspective on the robotics world, going from academia to DARPA program manager to the current CEO of Toyota Research. His leadership position at TRI means that he can visualize how to make robots that best help humanity, and then actually work towards putting that vision into practice—commercially and at scale. His current focus is assistive robots that help us live fuller, happier lives as we age.
Getting autonomous vehicles to drive themselves is not easy, but the fact that they work even as well as they do is arguably due to the influence of DARPA’s 2005 Grand Challenge. That’s why it’s so exciting to hear about DARPA’s newest autonomous vehicle challenge, aimed at putting fully autonomous vehicles out into the wilderness to fend for themselves completely off-road.
Boston Dynamics is arguably best known for developing amazing robots with questionable practicality. As the company seeks to change that by exploring commercial applications for its existing platforms, founder Marc Raibert has decided to keep focusing on basic research by starting a completely new institute with the backing of Hyundai.
The Open Source Robotics Foundation (OSRF) spun out of Willow Garage 10 years ago. This year’s acquisition of most of the Open Robotics team by Alphabet’s Intrinsic represents a milestone for the Robotics Operating System (ROS). the fact that it’s even possible for Open Robotics to move on like this is a testament to just how robust the ROS community is. The Open Robotics folks will still be contributing to ROS, with a much smaller OSRF supporting the community directly. But it’s hard to say goodbye to what OSRF used to be.
Hugging robots is super important to me, and it should be important to you, too! And to everyone, everywhere! While, personally, I’m perfectly happy to hug just about any robot, very few of them can hug back—at least in part because the act of hugging is a complex human interaction task that requires either experience being a human or a lot of research for a robot. Much of that research has now been done, giving robots some data-driven guidelines about how to give really good hugs.
It’s not often that we see a new autonomous home robot with a compelling use case. But this year, Labrador Systems introduced Retriever, a semi-autonomous mobile table that can transport objects for folks with mobility challenges. If Retriever doesn’t sound like a big deal, that’s probably because you have no use for a robot like this; but it has the potential to make a huge impact on people who need it.
ASIMO has been setting the standard for humanoid robots for literally a decade. Honda’s tiny humanoid was walking, running, and jumping back in 2011 (!)—and that was just the most recent version. ASIMO has been under development since the mid-1980s, which is some seriously ancient history as far as humanoid robots go. Honda decided to retire the little white robot this year, but ASIMO’s legacy lives on in Honda’s humanoid robot program. We’ll miss you, buddy.