Spotlight on Robotics Engineer Rodney Brooks

Rodney Brooks

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As a company that strives to explore new ideas, devices and processes, we admire individuals who exemplify the spirit of innovation. This month our featured innovator is Australian Robotics Engineer, author, entrepreneur and MIT Professor, Rodney Brooks.

His TED Speaker bio describes him as one who “studies and engineers robot intelligence, looking for the holy grail of robotics: the AGI, or artificial general intelligence”.

In this famous TED Talk from 2013, Professor Brooks presents the idea that robots can play an essential role in our future as the number of working-age adults drops and the number of retirees increases. Rather than viewing robots as a replacement for people on the job, perhaps we should see them as helpful collaborators, freeing us up to spend time on less mundane and mechanical challenges. Watch below.

Perhaps he is best known for popularizing the actionist approach to robotics, the belief that actions or behaviors are a more appropriate standard in robotics. This approach focuses on robots that possess an ability to to exhibit complex behaviors by gradually correcting its actions via sensory-motor links- in other words- a robot who can figure things out.

He is changing the field of robotics and argues that in order for robots to accomplish everyday tasks in an environment shared by humans, their higher cognitive abilities need to be based on the action and experience with the environment. He was one of the first scientists to give robots the ability to process data on their own. “Over time there’s been a realization that vision, sound-processing, and early language are maybe the keys to how our brain is organized,” he says in this 2002 article.

Rodney Brooks is a founder of iRobot, makers of the popular Roomba vacuum. He now heads Rethink Robotics, whose mission is to apply advanced robotic intelligence to manufacturing and physical labor. “When I look out in the future, I can’t imagine a world, 500 years from now, where we don’t have robots everywhere,” he says.

In 2014, The Robotics Industries Association presented Professor Brooks was honored the Joseph F. Engelberger Award honoring “persons who have contributed outstandingly to the furtherance of the science and practice of robotics”.