Robotic Renaissance: The Non-Robotic Robot

In popular parlance, the term “robotic” verges on the insulting. It implies uninspired, unthinking and repetitive. Yet at the same time, robots themselves are cool—striding through popular culture in science fiction and reality shows, alongside (or in place of) military troops, serving as science ambassadors in classrooms or pluckily plodding though nuclear disasters in Japan.

At UC Santa Barbara, the fluidity and diversity of real life inspires the approach to this new-old technology, bridging the divide between “clone” and “cool.” Many robotics projects seem to draw more from the menagerie than the hardware store, with rats and mice, dogs and dragonflies, even maple seeds and bacteria, influencing the design of hardware and software, and how robotics is taught in academia.

While specifics vary, robots are generally defined as having some mobility, whether as an arm attached to a post or an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) soaring overhead. They have the ability to make some decisions on their own, even if that only goes as far as how hard to screw in a bolt, and they can do this more or less autonomously. In short, a robot can move, it can think and it can make itself useful.

See full article at Convergence Online, the magazine of engineering and the sciences at UC Santa Barbara.