Dr. Henrik I. Christensen is the Qualcomm Chancellor's Chair of Robot Systems and a Professor of Computer Science at Dept. of Computer Science and Engineering UC San Diego. He is also the director of the Institute for Contextual Robotics.
Henrik Christensen performs academic research on robotics and artificial intelligence, is the main editor of the US National Robotics Roadmap, and an entrepreneur.
Dr. Christensen does research on robotics and AI with an emphasis on a systems view to problems. The research has been published in 350+ contributions across AI, Computer Vision and Robotics. The research has been adopted by companies such as Electrolux, ABB, KUKA, Weda, BMW, Boeing, iRobot, PerMobil, General Motors.
Henrik has been active in community organization such as the European Robotics Network and later as the main organizer of the US Robotics Roadmaps ( 2009, 2013, and 2016), which was the basis for the National Robotics Initiative. A new roadmap is in preparation for release 2020.
Dr. Christensen has co-founded a number of companies including ROBO Global and Robust.AI. He serves as an advisor to a large number of companies and agencies across four continents.
Dr. Christensen is a fellow of IEEE and AAAS. He was awarded the “Joseph Engelberger Award” 2011, the highest honor awarded by the industry and named “Boeing Supplier of the Year” 2011. He was awarded an honorary doctorate (Dr. Techn. h.c.) in engineering from Aalborg University 2014. His work has been featured in major media such as CNN, BBC, NY Times, and the Financial Times.
Per Sjöborg, host of the Robots In Depth podcast, interviews Dr. Christensen to learn more on his view on the delopments in the field of robotics. Below is a transcript of the interview. You can find the audio version here.
Per Sjöborg: Welcome to this episode of robots in depth. Today, I'm honored to have Henrik Christensen and we're going to talk about everything in robotics like we usually do. How did you get into robotics? Tell me the beginning of this story.
Henrik Christensen: Actually I used to work in computer vision so I got my degree in computer vision and then an opportunity came up where we got a serious amount of money and said what would be the difference? I said what if we could put cameras on mobile platforms and move them around, see what's going on in the world that would be really cool. For that reason we bought a mobile platform and that's how I sort of got into robotics.
Per: This mobile platform was quite rudimentary compared to what we have today I would presume.
Henrik: It was very basic. It was a very basic platform but it made the difference. We could get started. We could do very simple initially mobile robot sort of driving around in the hallways and that was a good start.
Per: Where were you when you were doing this work?
Henrik: This was in Aalborg University in Denmark so back in 1991.
Per: What did you use the vision for?
Henrik: In Aalborg University we were using it for doing scene understanding so we were in some of the very early EU projects so 25to 30 years ago and getting in and just getting started. Wanted to be able to do, can we find basic navigation using vision? Can we find where are the rooms? Can we track people? We did one of the very first active vision hats so two cameras moving around that was back in 1991. Very interested in how could we model what humans are doing and how could we use this to sort of drive around. Very early vision, really basic cameras, very little computing power. We made tremendous progress the last 25 years of getting to where you can do it in real time, you can do it in megapixel cameras. We have much better mobile platforms and it was not until I got to Stockholm that I actually got into doing sort of robot manipulation. All of the earlier work was just cameras on mobile platforms.
Per: I guess it was limited by the technology that was available at the time. That simply was what you could do.
Henrik: You could only get very basic mobile platforms. It was hard to get a, if you bought a robot manipulator you would have to have a seriously big room you would have to have it behind fences. It was a huge challenge and we just didn't have those facilities at the time.
Per: Then you came to KTH in Stockholm actually which is my hometown. Can you talk a little bit about why you ended up there and what you did when you were there?
Henrik: That was sort of an interesting opportunity I was very much when I was at Aalborg University involved in doing EU projects of and then my good friend Jana Lavecklund at KTH was involved with one of these strategic research foundations that Sweden was setting up on saying we want to do something very strategic in a few areas. They managed to secure a grant on autonomous systems and Jan Olof called me up and said we need a director for this center. Would you want to come to Stockholm? It’s a Dane defecting to Sweden. That’s a pretty big deal but nonetheless it was such a great opportunity. I had to go. We build up a center that initially from almost no existence, had people in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, applied math and computer science going after autonomous systems from sort of really trying to understand the basics of autonomy but also trying to understand how could we do early work on grasping, how could we do early work on navigation. I did a lot of work with ABB Robotics Investors, did interesting work with Electrolux. I was part of the team with Electrolux that did the first autonomous vacuum cleaner before Roomba and all of this. We also did some healthcare work so very broad and very interesting. That really sort of helped get the Center for Autonomous Systems to be one of the leading institutions in Europe at the time. There was a lot of fun and compared to Denmark in Sweden there's a lot of robotics companies. It was very interesting. It was much easier to build up sort of industrial relationships. I'm very adamant we not only do interesting research but also transform it into the real world. That was a lot of fun.
Per: I am an old software developer. I did that for more than ten years but why I am so excited about robotics is because it's both software and hardware and it's out there in the real world doing actual stuff. That’s why I'm more excited about robotics than software alone.
Henrik: That was one of the thing for instance what we did in the US where we're looking at, the title of my slide sort of my roadmap is when the internet gets connected to the real world we get robotics.
Per: That's exactly what it is. We are going to be talking about the roadmaps I'm sure because you worked with the with the US version of the roadmap and of course there's also European version or the roadmap.
Henrik: We were actually very engaged when I was at KTH in a number of EU projects. We had a very large portfolio of EU projects. They still have and as part of this we sat together one night and said you know what? I really don't know what's going on in Norway. I know more about what's going on at MIT than I know what's going on in all of Norway. This is a little bit sad. Then we said why don't we start a mailing list in Europe to try and exchange research results, all of those things. Then about a year later the European Commission called me up and said, this is amazing that we're trying to coordinate European research. Could we sponsor you? Sure, why not and that sort of led to the European Robotics Network. As part of the European Robotics Network we started writing a national robotics or a European Robotics roadmap which then led to the cognitive systems program and a number of these efforts which was very successful. Then after 10 years in Stockholm, it gets dark in the winter you know and very depressing. I got an offer to go to Georgia Tech. When I came to Georgia Tech I said, in the US there's a lot of individual funding programs but there was really no strategy overall for what's happening. For that reason I said it would be nice if we could come up with an overall national strategy, put together a group somewhere around 80 people from industry and 80 people from academia and wrote sort of a strategy of looking at where are the business opportunities, why is it hard, what kind of R&D could we do that would actually impact the real world? It was interesting. I did this first in Europe and then I moved to the US and had an opportunity to do it again in the US.
Per: Now the roadmaps and an in keeping track of what's happening in robotics is more or less standard. I mean we have the ERF conference that every year brings all of European robotics together and we share our research results, our entrepreneurial efforts and also the input from the Commission is very important because they are keeping a very strong, keeping up the very strong support they've had for robotics. It’s a very big program I understand.
Henrik: It's even bigger than the US I think in many respects. We have the same thing in the US so we have a what is called the PI meeting so all of the people will get together to talk about what are the things that's been funded, what's going on, what's the future strategy and I think these are very valuable for or both in Europe and the US to really get cohesion, get people to know each other in in Europe sort of across the country boundaries, really building a very strong community which is very helpful. I also think it's very helpful both in Europe and the US we have national robotics weeks which is great for outreach to tell the rest of the world about all of the cool stuff that's going on in robotics because most people have no idea.
Per: This is actually a course to, reason why I'm doing this interview show I want you guys that are actually doing the, of being part of the robot revolution tell the real story about this straight to the general public pretty much like robotics week or these PI ERF things. I also want that to be done without a filter, without an agenda because so much of robotics can either be sound like science fiction and people don't plan or prepare for it or it sounds scary and then they try to stop it. We should use this as an opportunity.
Henrik: I'm always saying one of my worst enemies is Hollywood because they put up these horror stories of Will Smith going in there has to save mankind because a robot has gone rogue. I'm like yes, that's not what it looks like. Come to my lab and I'll show you this is, in some sense for Hollywood very depressing. We have much more mundane problem but at the same I understand it. I understand the people are worried about am I going to lose my job? What’s going to happen to this? We need to as roboticists address this and convince people that it's about empowering people. It’s not about replacing people. I think that's very important that we have an important educational role to do. At the same time we are seeing tremendous progress in technology and we are on an exponential curve which leaves the risk that unless you continue to educate yourself you could get marginalized. It’s important and it's important that we get that message out there.
"I'm always saying one of my worst enemies is Hollywood because they put up these horror stories of Will Smith going in there has to save mankind because a robot has gone rogue"
Per: This is the same thing that's happened in any technology revolutions. One of the many we've gone through over like thousands of years but one example I've heard is that in the early 50s there were 40,000 people going to work in New York as elevator operators we probably don't have a single one. The world isn't worse off. You can move on and do other things.
Henrik: You can look at it probably as recently as 10 years ago most company did not have a social media representative. Today any company with sort of respect for itself has to have somebody that considers what is our social media profile. We get a very different set of jobs but there are surprises in there. When I started 30 years ago when I entered the workforce I had a secretary and at the time I got my own computer and she was scared stiff. She said, oh you know what am I going to do now then you get your own computer. I don't have to type for you anymore. She was a typist in a typing pool. There are more secretaries today than there were 30 years ago but they don’t type for me anymore.
Per: They manage the social media account.
Henrik: Exactly and they do all of these other things and on the other hand I've made some mistakes in my life. I remember when I was in in elementary school and we were offered a course and typing and I said, I will never have to type in my life. Today, I probably spend six hours a day typing on a computer. Who knows maybe 15 years from now we'll just be talking to the computer and we don't have to type at all but there was a period in between where we all have to sort of sit in front of this but it's also interesting there are some surprises in terms of employment. If I look at it there are more bank personnel today than 10 years ago which really surprised me because I never go to my bank. I used my cash card and go to the ATM and I take out money. I don't think I go every year and there are still more people in the banking. I ask the banking sector, it’s because the banking sector is growing so rapidly that even though the private customers don't show over anymore the rest of the economic system is growing so rapidly that they need more people. The hard part is to make sure that we have to have people that actually get a reasonable level of education which is very important and because if you have sort of a base level of education you can get moved to different places and I think it's important for the future and even for the current generation that you need to think about lifelong learning. If we just look 30 years back most of us did not have a laptop, most of us did not even have a computer and we didn't have computer games. There's lots of things that we didn't have and today these are sort of self-evident things. 10 years ago most people didn't have a smartphone so it's important to do this and it's important to realize that in most cases we can't predict it so like Watson from IBM said that initially the world market for computers was four.
Per: He was quite wrong there.
Henrik: He was quite wrong there. The same thing the CEO for Compaq when the first PC came out said nobody would ever want to have one of those in our homes. The Union Telegraph came out, when the first phone came out and said this is not a convenient communication medium. There’s all of these really wrong predictions and I think we have to prepare for the fact that robots are going to be pervasive in our life going forward. We’re going to have them in our homes. We’re going to drive driverless cars. We’re going to go to get scanned for all sort of medical diseases by a robot. We’re going to get you know deliveries from Amazon and all sorts of other places by robots. It’s going to be a very pervasive part of our life. For that reason it's also very important that we build robots that are accessible to people whether it's a game playing teenager that spend 15,000 hours on a game or it's my mother who's never used a robot we need to be able to accommodate both of them and that's why in robotics it's very important for us to not only work on the latest technology but also work on how do we get this technology in such a way they can be used by regular people.
"We’re going to have them in our homes. We’re going to drive driverless cars. We’re going to go to get scanned for all sort of medical diseases by a robot. We’re going to get you know deliveries from Amazon and all sorts of other places by robots. It’s going to be a very pervasive part of our life"
Per: Get it out there and really be accessible as you say. We see that for instance the vacuum cleaner have made good strides. They’re quite common and they do work quite well. We also see the lawn mower robots are quite popular and the self-driving car is making an amazing progress. We see the Tesla that's in some situation is actually driving itself although there's still a quite a way to go before we can fall asleep in the car.
Henrik: On the other hand we are seeing people falling asleep on the car. There was one on social media last week of this woman driving on a Californian highway and was seen by viewers was sound asleep. The Tesla were taking it on the highway. I was a little too early.
Per: We’re not really ready for that.
Henrik: But that's where I think it's very important because right now Tesla's saying you have to be ready to intervene at any time. People are not going to sit like this for very long. Then they're going to get a message on SMS and go oh yeah I could communicate with my so and one of the big questions is how do we make sure that people have context awareness. How can I make sure that they are the really in the loop. I think we're going to have some other problems about how do we make the driving natural enough that people don't get motion sick.
Per: It’s been described as quite aggressive sometimes. I'm sure they're working on that but the notion that the human should be able to in a split second take over the driving that is from my point of view the really challenging issue.
Henrik: We need to find a way of making it much smoother and I find a way of doing this. On the other hand I think it's very encouraging because it allows people as they get older to get access to transportation. If I'm looking at it most of the people I know and my parents and others are worried about that they don't want to take a taxi whenever they have to go somewhere. They don't want to use an Uber. If I could give them a car that would allow them to go to church and all sorts of other things without having a driver and without being in a position where they can afford to have a driver's license anymore because might be due to eye sight, it might be due to all sorts of things that makes this will allow them to get out of their house, have a much more richer life than they have today. The same thing having kids I'm not happy if I look at, I don't have kids myself but if I had kids, if I had a teenage daughter I'm not sure I'm ready to put in an Uber driver with who knows what their background is. I know they do background checks and all sorts of things nonetheless I would feel uncomfortable about this. A driverless car would feel much more comfortable of course I'm a roboticist.
Per: Which of course should tell the people watching this something that if you would put your own family in that self-driving car and with your experience and knowledge it's probably safe, that's a well-founded decision.
Henrik: That's not something you do lightly but I think we're going to see technology be such a pervasive part of our everyday life. It’s anything from helping people getting out of bed. We’re getting to a place where we can do basic hygiene like shaving people and we're almost there where we can start bathing people and things like this. We can give almost any function from the time you get up all the way and soon I'm sure we'll get robotic beds that will modulate its functions during the night so that you don't get, you don't lie in the same position. They make sure you get the right sleep. At Georgia Tech we've worked with a person from California Henry Evans. He’s paralyzed from the neck down. He wanted to get a robot. He saw one of my colleagues Charlie Kemp on CNN. He called up Charlie and said Charlie, you need to help me and he was paralyzed. We’re like okay this is going to be complicated stuff and he said, I'd like to get a robot that allows me to scratch myself when I have an itch.
Per: That’s such a fundamental thing for you and me.
Henrik: Exactly but for him having to call on his wife and then you know, I really that's a big deal so we gave him a robot that could allow him to scratch himself. Can you shave me? I'm very unhappy about how my wife shaves me so if I could do this myself I would be much happier so we gave him a robot that would allow him to shave. Then he said, it would be great if you if I could get a robot that would allow me to feed myself because my wife is my primary caregiver. This is a huge time commitment for her if I could feed myself she would be able to free up have both some personal time but also be able to do a lot of other things. For her this was a big deal and for him it's a big deal. He now had a little bit of independence whereas before he was totally relying on her for all of his functions. These are small steps but makes a huge difference for these.
Per: You mentioned that in the wife of this person was the primary caregiver. What we gain here is two very important things when robotics can take over some of these tasks. She gains time. He gains independence but they also get the relationship back because she can transfer back into being his wife rather than to being his primary caregiver. Those three things are fundamentally super important.
Henrik: It's very important and we're seeing this at the same time the price is coming down to a level where we can give this to people. We see people as they get older they have a hard time cleaning their apartments. They have a lot of things and still you know they would like to have a clean apartment because when they have guests you know they don't want to sort of there’s dust in the corners and things like that. Giving them this quality of life is going to be very important and we are in a situation where the demographics is moving in such a way we're going to get more and more elderly people.
Per: I'm going to be an old person and certainly would want this knowledge when I’m old.
Henrik: Exactly as I've said all along I would like to see technology progressed to a level where by the time I retire I would have a robot that would allow me to get out of bed, take a shower, get dressed, prepare meal without having to rely on other people. I still want to associate with other people but I want to do this in a social context rather than them showing up purely to service me for my daily needs.
I would like to see technology progressed to a level where by the time I retire I would have a robot that would allow me to get out of bed, take a shower, get dressed, prepare meal without having to rely on other people.
Per: Freeing up again the people to form a personal bond with the person rather than in “using that to take care of the basics”. I really want the pace of technology to be such that my independence as it goes down over the coming many years technology actually keeps up.
Henrik: I'm convinced by the time I retire I will have an autonomous driving car that would allow me to still move around and go on vacations and all sorts of things and so I agree we should and I think we will see this but the big challenge is going to be how do we make sure that it not only is accessible to you and I who are technologically very well sort of integrated using a lot of advanced technology. I want people that have never used a computer to be able to use this technology but on the other hand I would also like to be able so that it's even fun for 14 year old kid that has sort of played 10,000 hours of computer games to feel it. I would like to have a knob I can sort of move on saying novice, expert and over time as you feel more and more confident it follows. Ideally it should learn what is your usage pattern and be able to use this so that all the time it’s moving in the right direction.
Per: That's a very interesting thing and I also think that I've heard that from when we test robots out there especially for the elderly as you mentioned keeping your home clean is a fundamental task that many people want to do. What I heard and understand that when they use to do this they feel that they are doing it. They are doing it together with the robot rather than having somebody else do it by for them that the robot is doing 99% of the work they are still doing it together with the robot much as they did with a regular vacuum cleaner.
Henrik: Not exactly it gives them the independence. That allows them to do and you're doing it on their schedule. It’s not like I have to be home from 9:00 to 10:00 because somebody from homecare is coming to clean my apartment. Now it gives them a much higher satisfaction.
Per: We talked about self-driving cars. We talked about robots in the home. You have a very unique, deep perspective of robotics as a whole. Where do you see other areas that is about to become possible? What are the viewers going to watch out for and wait for in the coming two to five years or something like that?
Henrik: I think we'll see the traditional application for robotics has been in manufacturing. I think it will continue to be in manufacturing. I think it will be very much in supply chain so in terms of delivering things to people, delivering things to factories so I think we can see a revolution in Amazon. Already today we are almost getting to the level where books get printed in a storage facility very close to where you live and then they basically put you know the cover on it and they send it to you. You can order a book and they start printing it as soon as you press the buy button and within an hour it will actually get delivered to you. I think we will see much more of this where material gets delivered. It will be produced locally not in China or not in some other country but very close to you and I see the long-term evolution is that we'll put the printer in the back of the truck so as it's on its way to you it will print it and put the cover on and it will be fresh off the press when they pick it up and get it to you. I think we'll see this with food. I think we'll see this very quickly and I think we'll get to a point where we might have food that has never been touched by humans because we've seen these infections. People have a cold. They’re having a flu, they have all of these things. With this I can now guarantee much better food quality. We can track it much better.
Per: We can reduce waste because people drop apples and stuff like that. If we waste the food towards the end of the chain we've added a lot of environmental impact and then suddenly nobody lost a lot of money.
Henrik: It'll reduce the overall cost of this so I think we will very much move manufacturing away from mass manufacturing, far away from where you are, move manufacturing much close to where it is today. That will move jobs away from these foreign countries and back very close to where you are. I think we'll see much higher degrees of automation in using car factories to get this down and all sorts of things. I think manufacturing is going to go for a revolution. I think the supply chain is going to go for a revolution so already today in a number of big cities you have Amazon Express or Amazon Prime where you can order something and they will deliver it within an hour. This can even be very exotic products. Recently I bought a very high-end Nikon camera they were only supposed to be 10 of them in the US. I pressed and within an hour they knocked on my door and they said, here you go. I was like (sound) so we're getting there in terms of doing this for all sorts of products. I think the same we’ll start seeing for instance for clothing that you will be able to go into a dressing room and it will scan your 3D body shape and it will sew clothing to your shape so you don't have to buy a pair of jeans and they're in a particular size factor and this is what they are. You’re like it's not quite what I wanted or a shirt or something that we are already starting to see this in the US where you can take a cell phone and you can take a picture of yourself with no shirt on and then it will sew a shirt that's a perfect fit to your shape.
Per: Then that brings us to mass customization. It’s like one thing for many. You have one thing for you and also the fact that we're also only producing what people actually buy and want. This is going to drive costs down. It’s going to drive environmental impact down and it's just going to make everything so much more efficient.
Henrik: Not exactly so I think we’ll see it in manufacturing. We'll get this mass customization already today Audi is making more than 6 million different configurations of the A3, Jaguar is making more than a million different configurations of the Jaguar so we're seeing all of these cars getting mass customization. I think we'll see it in clothing. I think we'll start to see them food so people have various kinds of allergies, I’m sensitive to this. You will get it made so it's fully customized to you and then I think we'll see it in all sorts of deliveries and transportation. We will see it in health care. We will certainly see it in all sorts of outdoor environmental so I think we can do much better clean-up of this so overall we're getting a world that is much more automated. The other area that I think we will get it in is entertainment. We’ll get robots that will help us have fun, for play, already today Lego and Universal Studios have robo coasters so it's a robot with the two seats at the end of the arm and we can move it around. Now you're getting a roller coaster and you tell me how sort of risky do you want. You want the scary one or the easy one?These will come to our homes so we'll start to see much more entertainment. The nice thing is that this might actually be one of the first areas where we get it because we have a very non-rational relationship to toys. We’re willing to pay much more money to get sort of a fun experience than if I look at something like vacuuming. How many hours am I vacuuming a year? Okay what's it worth to me, how much money am I going to pay so we're very rational about what that vacuum cleaner can cost. A toy, the sky is the limit.
Per: Everybody that's ever owned a sailboat knows. That stuff is expensive. They know. They’re going to pay for it anyway.
Henrik: It's not like when you buy a sailboat or I have a very high-end car, I could get by with a Mini or something like that and then it would be much cheaper. It’s not like I’m thinking how many hours am in my car? What’s it worth to me? It’s fun. I'm willing to pay. I think also with robotics we're going to get a number of things that will help us get entertainment.
Per: I have access to a number of small robotics kits and so much fun to build stuff. So much fun to bring them out to people and build stuff together with them. I'm thinking that that's a social thing too.
Henrik: It's a very important tool also for doing education. I just saw here at Robo Business a bunch of kids that have designed a stand for bicycles. This was a bunch of fourth graders that had come up with a design for how to do a bike stand, how to build in sort of computing into it so that you would park your bike, it would scan on your phone, if somebody else unlocked it would come up with a message on your phone saying somebody's talking to steal your bike and it was built in so that there was a stand for putting in your biking helmet. There’s a mirror so that the girls could set their hair and all of this. These are fourth graders. It’s unbelievable.
Per: We really have to work hard to stay head.
Henrik: But it's great they're learning already early on how to do programming, how to integrate their technology into their everyday life, how to start making money, how to really think about this? This is amazing. Now they’ve learned about calculating, programming language, design these are all core skills to learn for the rest of your life and the fact that they started this as fourth graders I'm just like wow.
Per: Imagine a fourth grader doing that. They’re probably like 10, 12 years old.
Henrik: Yes 10, 11 years old.
Per: That's amazing and they're building automated solutions.
Henrik: They're starting to start a company.
Per: This is what robotic enables. If you're out there listening to this I'm thinking both you and I can say that this is the stuff robotics enables. This is real.
Henrik: This is actually. I'm seeing it in it's starting to be international but for the longest time there's been a competition in the US called the US First Competition, it’s a robotics competition. Now it's available from anywhere from kindergarten to high school kids and I'm engaged with the high school kids. Every year they get a mission the first Saturday in January then they have six weeks to build a robot. This year they had to build a robot that could conquer a fortress. They had to be able to shoot balls sort of like cannonballs. They had to be able to climb the walls, six weeks. They started out with this very basic stuff. Got it all the way and then people are like that's just robotics. There’s a lot of kids that won't be interested. No it's not. It’s really about how do you get 25 high school kids to work together. To be able to build this robot they have to go out and get funding. They have to be able to present their ideas. They have to have the engineers that can actually build it. They have to have a logistics team that can take them to the various contests and then finally they have to have a management team that can bring all of this together so it's like starting a small company.
Per: A midsized company. They have 25 people.
Henrik: Then they go out and then they do this and the ones that win the regional contests are guaranteed a scholarship to go to university. That’s a pretty big deal. This is a way of guaranteeing that you can get an affordable education so whether you're from a rich home or from a poor home if you have the energy and the drive you can be you can be a success.
Per: It's really important that we get this into the hands of the kids early because we see that with computers that the kids that had to them early and I was fortunate enough to have that and I really feel that I have a different understanding of what computers can do and what they can't do and what is a long time and what would be done reasonably easy as to oppose to my friends that didn't have access to a computer in the same way so I'm thinking if you can put your kids in contact with robotics that's something that you should absolutely take the opportunity to do.
Henrik: It doesn’t cost that much money to get started. You can get started you know for less than a thousand koronas and actually do something or $100 and get something, you can get started with very little and you can do amazing things so and typically it will inspire the kids to really go and it helps them with math. It helps them with programming so there's a lot of ways that this would be very valuable but I think that's important that we also embrace it so that as the kids get robotics technology has to grow up they would not be scared of it and embrace it and say oh, this can help. Anywhere from vacuuming your kid's room to also some new toys.
Per: This actually bridges very nicely to a very big trend today which is co- robotics where people and robotics combined because especially when it comes to artificial intelligence humans are still enormously flexible and also when it comes to dexterity of our hands robotics manipulation is not at par or won't be at par with humans for a very long time. Being not afraid of robots, understanding robots will really bridge to the co-robotic scene very nice. Could you talk a little bit about the core robotic scene, what is your view with that? How are we going to interact and work with robotics for a single task?
Henrik: I think traditionally we've had robots behind the fence. It was not safe to be around them and now we actually have a safety standard that specifies how humans and robots can interact for tasks, how hard can they collide, when do they of the robots have to stop, what are all of those so that you no longer need to have a fence so you can collaborate. The best example I had was when I was in Sweden Volvo approached us and said we would like to build a robot that would help sort our mail about 10% of the mail we get every day is mislabelled. There’s nobody in room 334. Where is this person? They said could you build a robot so we would like as an employer to embrace diversity and integration to work for us. They would have a person that was mobility impaired in this position that would be able to sort the mail and this would be a way for them to sort of embrace a broader set of people. The safety guy showed up and said no, you can't put a robot next to this person. We won't allow. I'm like really. Now with the co-robots we actually are in a situation where a robot can work with humans on solving specific tasks. The first level is you can put humans and robots in the same space and it's considered safe. We know how hard you can hit each other which is sort of one level of co-robot that there's simply coexistence. The next one is to be able to have a robot that helps you solve tasks that this could be heavy lifting. It’s too heavy so if you did it as a person you would ruin your neck or ruin your elbow and your shoulder so instead they can now go and do the heavy lifting. You still guide it to be the right place but it enforces you to be sort of a stronger person. You’re not doing your ergonomics. Right now we're seeing, I was at a big slaughterhouse about a week ago and I saw these people and they're very un-ergonomic tasks to be done. Those we're getting replaced by humans they can still be guiding the robot but it's doing all the hard work.
Per: Making all of us superheroes.
Henrik: Making all of us superheroes so we can all be Ironman in some sense with this but the other one is then to get to robots that are truly collaborative that works with us on solving tasks. The best example I have is we're building a robot at Georgia Tech that allows the robot to help me prepare a meal so that I give the robot the recipe and say we're going to make Swedish meatballs with mashed potatoes. I will start peeling the potatoes and say oh let me go and pick up the meat. It will heat up the meat. I'll start cooking the potatoes then I'll start on the meat balls and I can see you're busy with the meatballs let me mash the potatoes for you. The fact that we are collaborating on solving a task but I didn't have to program it very detailed instead I would be able to give it basically the recipe and it understands what are you doing, what can I do so we're really collaborating. It would be like having another person in the kitchen while we did this.
Per: Very interesting, that's a very close cooperation.
Henrik: You can imagine you know on a weekday you are on your way home. You’re stuck in traffic. You use your cell phone to say we're going to Pasta Bolognese tonight. The same you can imagine for a lot of elderly people that might not want to cook anymore having a robot that would actually allow you to do this but every now and again they said no, I really want to be able to participate in this so there we are seeing co-robots. Traditional robotics grows on the average 15% a year, co-robots grows somewhere around 60% to 70% a year because that's where the next big revolution is going to be. It's really going to be about robots that empower people to do things that they otherwise have a hard time doing either because they run out of time or they lose their capability or they're not strong enough. This is where the next revolution will be but it also opens up for the economies.
Imagine now that you're a very good chef. You put together recipe for how robot can do this and now you almost get to iTunes where you can start selling robot recipes there. You can now have private people that become very good at using their robot and they're going to sell them. This is Henrik’s pasta Bolognese and then I get a little bit of money every time people use my recipe for doing this. It opens up for very different economy.
Per: That's why I love being in robotics is seeing all of this from fourth graders building companies to us being mobile when we're older, giving an arm back to a guy that lacks one. Robotics is an amazing field and it's been so nice to hear from you what's going on and hopefully we’ll have you on the show in the future to share even more revolution.
Henrik: I’d be happy to.
Per: Thank you for taking the time to do an interview.
End of Transcript.
The Wevolver Robots in Depth podcast is hosted by Per Sjöborg, Founder of Aptomica. This article first appeared on Wevolver.com.
You can find all Robots in Depth podcast episodes on your favorite podcast app. New episodes are released weekly.
If you want more Robots in Depth interviews, then for example check out Per Sjöborg's interview with professor Peter Corke on robotics and machine vision