Robotics

See and sense the world

The birth of mechanical life

The word “robot” has existed since at least 1921 but it was not until the 1960s that scientists in Silicon Valley began to build the machines to which we today apply the label. These early automatons were slow, prone to falling over and of little use outside academic study. But they did manifest the essential features ascribed to robots: an ability to sense, and interact with, the world around them.

Opportunities

Since then, the field of robotics has seen great advances. Many industries now deploy robots whose capabilities far exceed those of their ancestors from the sixties. Today’s autonomous machines can:

Perform manufacturing tasks considered too tedious or dangerous for humans like welding, material handling, packaging and labelling.

Assist with surgeries in hospitals; the Sunnyvale, California-based Intuitive Surgical is among the leaders in this field, with its da Vinci Surgical System capable of turning hand gestures into precise movements of tiny instruments inside a patient’s body.

Plough fields and harvest crops or automate pest and disease control on farms. The LettuceBot, a smart tractor which can distinguish weeds from lettuce plants and surgically spray herbicides accordingly, is one such example from Silicon Valley’s Blue River Technology.

From science fiction to science labs

The value robots have been able to bring to these and many other areas of economic activity over the last half-century is the result of cost decreases – and performance increases – in sensors, actuators and artificial intelligence. Inasmuch as those trends are set to continue, robots will take on evermore complex tasks in an ever-wider range of settings.

Robotics is future

Indeed, in robots’ spiritual home of Silicon Valley, work on the next generation of automatons is already underway. While some roboticists seek to build machines capable of navigating unmapped environments, others want artificially-intelligent beings to learn social and moral norms in order to interact more deeply with humans. If at one time such goals belonged to science fiction, today they are fast becoming a reality.

Explore the Robotics

Learn about the latest advances in robotics and meet the entrepreneurs pioneering new solutions in this fast-evolving field.