Scott Locklin’s Take on Robotics

As someone who writes about robots on WordPress, I am frequently shown what other people have written about robots on WordPress. Like this post titled “Open problems in Robotics” by Scott Licklin and I agree with his conclusion: state of the art robotics still struggle to perform tasks that an average one year old human child can do with ease.

He is honest with a disclaimer that he is not a Serious Robotics Researcher, merely a technically competent spectator taking a quick survey of the current state of the art. That’s pretty much the same position I am in, and I agree with his list of big problems that are known and generally unsolved. But more importantly, he was able to explain these unsolved problems in generally understandable terms and not fall into field jargon as longtime practitioners (or wanna-be posers like myself) would be tempted to do. If someone not well versed in the field is curious to see how a new perspective might be able to contribute, Scott’s list is not a bad place to start. Robotics research still has a ton of room for newcomers to bring new ideas and new solutions.

Another important aspect of Scott’s writing is making it clear that unsolved does not mean unsolvable, a tone I see all too frequently from naysayers claiming robotics research is doomed to failure and a waste of time and money. Robotics research has certainly been time consuming and expensive, but I think it’s a stretch to say it’ll stay that way forever.

However, Scott is pessimistic that algorithms running on computers as we know them today would ever solve these problems, hypothesizing that robots would not be successful until they take a different approach to cognition. “more like a simulacrum of a simple nervous system than writing python code in ROS” and here our opinions differ. I agree current computing systems built on silicon aren’t able to duplicate brains built on proteins, but I don’t agree that is a requirement for success.

We have many examples in our daily lives where a human invention works nothing like their natural world inspiration, but have been proven useful regardless of that dissimilarity. Hydraulic cylinders are nothing like muscles, bearings and shafts are nothing like joints, and a Boeing 747 flies nothing like an eagle. I believe robots can effectively operate in our world without having brains that think the way human brains do.

But hey, what do I know? I’m not a big shot researcher, either. So the most honest thing to do is to end my WordPress post here with the exact same words Scott did:

But really, all I know about robotics is that it’s pretty difficult.

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