For every great robotic creation that comes to “life,” whether it’s a bot that folds your laundry or simply an academic paper that fleshes out a great idea, there is a small army of roboticists that helped make it possible.
We asked around the robotics community to assemble this list of the 15 most important people working in robotics today, and the list includes everyone from academics doing high theoretical work to entrepreneurs ready to sell you the next — or first — robot for your home.
We’re still quite a bit away from seeing a “Jetsons”-style Rosie cleaning up our messes and doing our housework for us, but here are some of the most important people working in the field today to perhaps make that a reality.
Melonee Wise and her team at Unbounded Robotics recently made their UBR-1 robot available for sale, and this thing is awesome. While it has a hefty price tag of $US50,000, it's an advanced, capable piece of machinery that tinkerers will have no problem putting to use around the house or workplace.
Coupled with a charging dock for extended work sessions, Unbounded's site says the UBR-1 (pronouced 'uber one') is adept at tasks as varied as 'unloading a dishwasher, fetching beverages, or setting the dinner table.'
As the price of the UBR-1 decreases (and as Unbounded releases newer, better bots), Wise's company might be the one making the first semi-humanoid multipurpose robots that people actually have at home.
Steve Cousins is CEO of Savioke, a company that's all about creating autonomous helper robots to make people's lives easier. The company recently raised $US2 million dollars to do so, but Savioke is only Cousins's most recent offering to the robotics world.
He's also the former CEO of Willow Garage, a robotics company that operated more like a research lab, giving roboticists the time and resources to pursue nearly any project they could dream up. Willow Garage is the birthplace of ROS -- Robot Operating System -- a piece of open-source software specifically designed to help people develop novel applications for their robots.
Cousins is also Director of the Board for the Open Source Robotics Foundation.
The Open Source Robotics Foundation, or OSRF, exists to 'support the development, distribution, and adoption of open source software for use in robotics research, education, and product development.'
Brian Gerkey is founder and CEO of the nonprofit organisation, and under his leadership, it has continually developed two big robotics projects: the previously mentioned ROS (Robot Operating System), and Gazebo, a piece of software that can simulate robots' moving around in a 3-D environment as they receive feedback from their sensors and various objects.
Both pieces of software have saved roboticists countless hours by providing a common, open foundation for people to build on.
Henrik Christensen, KUKA Chair of Robotics at the College of Computing at Georgia Institute of Technology
Dr. Christensen received the Engelberger Award in 2011 for his role in robotics education. As a professor at Georgia Tech, he carries out various research projects with an eye always toward 'real problems with real solutions.' He's published some 300 papers in the field dealing with big-picture topics from robot vision to artificial intelligence.
He recently made the startling prediction that robotics is advancing sufficiently such that children born today will never actually drive a car.
Dr. Breazeal is a noted speaker and has authored a number of papers pertaining to robotics (we recommend Social Interactions in (Human-Robot Interaction): The Robot View).
Her most famous creation is likely Leonardo, a 2.5-foot-tall social robot that resembles a Gremlin of movie fame. It has onboard cameras and sensors that enable it 'to mimic human expression, interact with limited objects, and track objects.' This all serves the purpose of making it easier and more reassuring for human interaction, a prime focus of Breazeal's research.
Boston Dynamics released a series of iconic YouTube videos that demonstrated nimble robots covering a variety of terrain on four legs while resembling big dogs, hence the name of one of the company's robots -- Big Dog.
Founder Marc Raibert is a former researcher at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence, and Google bought his company late last year. Boston Dynamics builds bots that run, climb, jump, and even drive a car. It's still unclear what Google's main robotics goals are, but Raibert's company is likely to play an integral part.
Even if you don't know Angle, you certainly know his company's most famous product: Roomba, the automated home vacuum cleaner.
iRobot makes a variety of other household robots that will scrub your floors, clean your pool, and even get the leaves out of your gutters. iRobot also makes a wide variety of robots used around the world for military, defence, and security purposes. We profiled that side of its business here.
We've previously interviewed Angle on what direction the company might take next. He told us the company is interested in eventually building robots to help the elderly lead more comfortable lives. We're rapidly ageing as a society, so robots might be just the thing to step in and help us out in our twilight years. They're certainly already helping up keep a cleaner home.
Brooks is a co-founder of iRobot alongside Colin Angle and Helen Greiner, and is also a former director of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. He founded Rethink Robotics, the company that makes the noted Baxter manufacturing robot.
Baxter is hardly your conventional manufacturing robot. It can be trained manually by moving its arms without the need to program a line of code. And considering its $US25,000 price tag, Baxter is mighty affordable as far as heavy-duty robots go.
Brooks also popularised the idea of behaviour-based robotics, in which a robot uses information obtained by its sensors to 'gradually correct its actions according to the changes in immediate environment.'
Raj Reddy founded the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute, now the world's largest robotics research and education organisation. His research covers topics as varied as autonomous navigation, speech recognition, and artificial intelligence.
Reddy won the prestigious Turing Award in 1994 for his work in AI, and has also won the National Science Foundation's Vannevar Bush Award for public service and lifelong contributions to the fields of robotics and technology.
Reddy maintains close ties to his native India, where he has been involved in a number of educational project, including his role as founder and Chancellor of the Rajiv Gandhi University of Knowledge Technologies, which caters to the educational needs of gifted rural youth
Simmons has not only helped build the navigation software for NASA's Deep Space 1, but he's done loads of work pertaining to social robots to see how robots might interact with us in the future.
He's built various robots that 'lived' at the Carnegie Mellon campus, such as Tank, a 'roboceptionist' who's been greeting visitor's tp the university's Robotics Institute for the past ten years and directing people to their destinations. He's also the one responsible for Victor, a Scrabble-playing robot that talks trash to its opponents.
Professor Rus has helped develop a variety of robotics projects that stand to turn heads and get mainstream attention in the near future.
Self-assembling M-Blocks might one day be used to deploy emergency infrastructure, like an improvised bridge, at the touch of a button. This robotic fish was built on the principles of 'soft robotics,' which means it has hardly any hard components in it and CO2-powered actuators get it to wriggle through the water like a real fish.
She's even attached to a project that will destroy the cost of robots by making it possible to print them on paper and fold them into mobile, sensing creations.
Laws has to keep up with new technologies, and Ryan Calo has his eye on robot legalities, particularly with respect to policy and ethics.
For example, Calo was quoted in this New York Times piece titled 'When Driverless Cars Break The Law.' Spoiler alert: it's complicated. 'Criminal law is going to be looking for a guilty mind, a particular mental state -- should this person have known better? If you're not driving the car, it's going to be difficult,' he said.
We need someone to think ahead towards what we haven't thought about yet, and Calo is so far the guy when it comes to the intersection of robots and the law. 'Ready or not, robots are racing into our lives,' he told the Wall Street Journal. 'But for most people, the first time they're going to really notice those robots...is when the systems go bad.'
DARPA, the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, has been responsible for a number of technological developments since its formation in 1958 (it created a predecessor to our modern internet!), though nowadays the government agency is quite known for its robotics competitions.
Gill Pratt has been a DARPA program manager since January 2010 and was formerly part of MIT's Leg Lab, which developed robotic systems that shunned wheels and moved around by way of legs, of course.
As for what happens to the robots upon their completion of the DARPA Robotics Challenge, he writes in this Reddit AMA that 'They won't take over the world, but they will return to DARPA for potential use in future programs.'
Vijay Kumar is the UPS Foundation Professor with various appointments across the fields of computer science, engineering, and robotics. He's currently the assistant director of robotics and cyber physical systems at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
He's particularly interested in aerial robots (read: drones) and designs robotic algorithms inspired by group behaviour in nature.
He's won numerous scientific awards, particularly the 1997 Freudenstein Award for 'significant accomplishments in mechanisms and robotics', the 2012 ASME Mechanisms and Robotics Award, the 2012 IEEE Robotics and Automation Society Distinguished Service Award.