Whether you have a keen interest in the field of robotics or not, in recent years it has been impossible to ignore the work of Boston Dynamics. Their viral videos have entered the collective consciousness as they show off the capabilities of their robots. If you’ve seen their omnidirectional quadruped robot Spot open a door or watched their humanoid Atlas robot dance, you’ve gotten a glimpse into the huge strides the company has made in developing robots able to move with a certain degree of autonomy through ordinary environments. [i]
Rather than take the easy route of giving their robots wheels or tracks, which would vastly simplify the task of programming them to move around at the sacrifice of restricting their movement to smooth surfaces, Boston Dynamics has focused their efforts over the decades on designing robots with legs. That determination to mimic the versatility and agility of the way humans or animals move has finally paid off with results that some viewers insist can’t possibly be real.
Founder Marc Raibert would be the first to point out that Boston Dynamics’ robots are a far cry from the independently thinking robots found in science fiction stories. He makes a distinction between athletic intelligence—the ability for a robot to manage its body and move through its environment—and cognitive intelligence, which would give it the ability to reason and make plans. Boston Dynamics has made great strides with the former, which is why their robots move like nothing we’ve ever seen before. However impressive the robots’ feats are, though, it’s still a human operator telling them where to go and what actions to perform.
Nevertheless, the combination of the robots’ hardware and software vastly simplifies the input that a human operator needs to provide. For example, Spot can handle the minute details of how to walk, even on uneven surfaces, leaving its operator nothing to do but to tell it what direction to move in. The question is, how to apply this ability in practical ways?
The most promising path is using robotics in automation. Automation simply means building machines or writing software to handle tasks that would usually be done by a human being—those tasks might be simple or complex, but they’re often repetitive or a bottleneck to productivity, making it an advantage to be able to hand them off to devices that don’t get bored or tired.
Advanced robotics offers intriguing possibilities for advancing physical automation beyond tasks that can be programmed from end to end. Spot is already being used by utility companies to check equipment with mounted cameras. Boston Dynamics is also developing a mobile automated case handling robot for use in warehouses. When robots can adjust their behavior based on the conditions they observe in their environment and are designed to maneuver freely, it’s not hard to envision uses for them in environments inhospitable to people or in performing tasks beyond human physical limitations.
To translate the promise of robotics into real-world applications, companies will need engineers and software developers. This is likely to be true even if they’re buying pre-programmed hardware from other companies because integrating existing technology with their business’s individualized needs, maintaining it, and adjusting it as conditions change will demand specialized knowledge.
Engineering and technical roles are notoriously difficult to fill, which means that companies wanting to make a serious push into integrating robotics will need to give themselves every advantage in hiring to find the right candidates. Integress is a boutique technical search firm specializing in finding talent that fits not only the technical needs of your company but also your unique workplace culture. We can help you identify your ideal candidate and put together the offer that will convince them to come work for you. To find out more about how we can optimize your hiring process, contact us here.