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Robots – the next generation’s computers?

Robotics Club Drone

PULLMAN, Wash. – The idea of household robotics may seem far-fetched, but one researcher at Washington State University sees many parallels between the status of robotics today and computers in the early 1980s.

In 1982, a little over 8 percent of American households had access to computers. In 2012, that number had jumped to nearly 80 percent.

Today, there are a few widely recognized household robotics, such as the autonomous vacuum cleaner Roomba, but robots are still most common in industry. Unmanned aerial vehicles comprise a large part of the robotics conversation – with applications explored in agriculture, security and even package delivery.

“Robots do jobs that are dirty, dangerous and dull,” said Matthew Taylor, an assistant professor of artificial intelligence and robotics at WSU. “They will be just as prevalent as computers in the not-so-distant future.”

Since starting at WSU in 2013, he introduced a robotics course and began facilitating a robotics club. Students in the class and club consider some of the biggest challenges in robotics by working with actual robots, rather than just through modeling and simulation.

“Seeing a robot working for the first time because of something you’ve built or programmed is very empowering,” Taylor said.

Some of the challenges he and the students tackle are integrated robotic systems and computer learning. He recently published an article about computers teaching computers to play video games like Pac Man and Star Craft – a small step toward computers teaching humans.

In addition to the technological possibilities of robots, they also help inspire the next generation of computer scientists and engineers, Taylor said.
“Playing with robots really gets students interested in science and engineering,” he said.

As part of a Kids’ Science Engineering Outreach day on April 5, students from the robotics club introduced elementary students to some hands-on engineering.

“Seeing the kids’ faces light up while doing the different activities and getting excited about science and technology was an awesome experience,” said Haily Holt, a member of the robotics club and president of the RoboSub Club of the Palouse.

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