Every aspiring engineer needs to take on a challenge that lets them get stuck and frustrated, so they realize that roadblocks aren’t permanent hurdles. If you have that fundamental outlook, you already have the attitude and identity of an engineer.
Any road worth traveling is riddled with challenges. The field of robotics, where I do my work, is no exception. In my lab, the Assistive Robotics and Manipulation Lab (ARMLab), our goal is to build robots that can cooperate with humans to do complex tasks. In order to be really useful to us, robots will need to intelligently understand what we want and need from them in any given situation. For example, if you’re carrying a heavy object, can they anticipate how and when to help you, like another human could? If you have mobility issues, can they anticipate where you’re going and open doors for you automatically? Or is it possible to develop an intelligent prosthetic arm that can interpret signals from a human and facilitate the action the human using it is trying to take?
There are a lot of very hard problems that have yet to be addressed in these areas and, at the same time, a lot of opportunities. We’re living in an age where we’re seeing advances in everything from computing power to sensor technology to motor design, and all of these innovations have the potential to be leveraged to make more useful and user-friendly robots.
While the challenges are plentiful, I believe that as we hone our engineering tools, we’ll take impactful steps toward overcoming them and will help create a world where robots and humans can partner more effectively.