Short story: awesome! You can keep reading now if you want to know why I think so.
Today I was listening to an interview of Rodney Brooks speaking about Baxter. When I saw it featured on IEEE Spectrum I thought: “Cool, let’s see where it goes”. But listening to Brooks describing his creature gives you a different perspective.
Take a decades old task, like automatic assembly. Take a new technology like learning from demonstration. Then show the world that research can go out of the labs and change people’s life. Isn’t that easy?
No it isn’t. I haven’t seen Baxter in action but I bet there are a lot of hacks and assumptions that make it do a proper job. But that’s reasonable, even more, welcome. Most of the papers you’ll read in robotics start with a sentence along the line of:
We need robots capable of learning from a non-expert to be usable in the real world.
And then it fires up equations, data collection, proofs and lab tests. However Rodney Brooks does something that he’s done in the past, actually he’s built his career around it: he does for real what others only discuss in papers and labs.
Don’t take me wrong, I’m not one more voice saying that research in University should be more application-focused and less theoretical. Baxter is build upon the research people in Universities around the world have done over the past years. Robotics, manipulation, computer vision, they all share the prize here.
This is a praise to all my colleagues who have worked hard and who never believed their research would make a difference. It takes a collective effort to change the world.
And a single mind who figures how to make money out of it.