Lift11: Sabine Hauert, Robotics today [en]

[fr] Notes de la conférence Lift11 à Genève.

Live and India-lagged notes from the Lift11 Conference in Geneva. Might contain errors and personal opinions. Use the comments if you spot nasty errors.

Robots = start wars, Asimov… A lot of hype.

“I read that robots can feed on dead bodies.” “Robots can marry us”, “We’ll be marrying them” — heck.

The question: why is that?

There is a reality gap. Roomba vs. the fantasy humanoid-cleaning-robot.

Sabine’s objective with this talk: grind the hype down to reality.

Hopes: robots will help us live better, work better, explore new frontiers (do things that we couldn’t do before).

How robots can help improve our quality of life

Luke-arm for amputees. Not only move through nerve interfaces but actually feel.

Autonomous cars. Avoid 1.2 mio people killed world-wide on the years every year. And be greener! Acceptance barrier? We don’t want to give control to our cars… but actually it’s going to be gradual. We’re starting to see things like auto-park, auto-speed… building up towards truly autonomous.

Robots that fold your towels.

Work better

Huge trend this year with telepresence robots. Video-conference is a pain. What you really want is mobile telepresence robots that you can log into, and move over the Bob and talk to him. Remove meetings. Also used for kids who had leukemia — allowed them some kind of “attendance” in school.

Warehouse robots. The shelves come to the person gathering the material for the order, rather than walking towards the shelves.

Warehouses are cool for robots because they’re structured. Agriculture too.

Explore new frontiers

Her PhD project.

Flying robots: stick their nose in the air and they fly off, and create a communications network in the air. Startup sensefly.

Space robots, of course. Contest: put a robot on the moon, drive 500m, and stream video. (Prize: 30 mio)


First, bodies: how do we make robots better adapted to their task? Example, gripper formed of a balloon filled with coffee beans. Soft, put it over a glass to seize it, suck the air out, it becomes rigid.

Brain: how do we make them learn? RoboEarth — robots can have their web too. Share information and experiences and recipes.

Interactions: how de we make them interact with us in a human-centred way?

Acceptance: robot products at the beginning are not called robots. Cf. Roomba. Now we’re starting to see robots being called robots. It’s become sexy. Eventually it’ll disappear: we’ll call our robot-cars cars, our robot-vacuum-cleaners vacuum-cleaners…

Law: what is the legal framework. You can teach stuff to a robot. But what if the result is bad? (broken arm for example) — who wants to take the liability? Parallel to what happened in the software industry (you can’t attack Microsoft if you lose your data).

Ethics: what do we want robots to do? Do we want them to have life and death decision? (robot-guns)

Conclusion: real robotics are pretty far from SF, robots will be able to change the way we live and work, allow us to discover new frontiers, and be ubiquitous.

Impact on jobs: those that are dull, difficult, dangerous (+ 4th D Sabine can’t remember) — hopefully we’ll have less of those, and more in other areas — just like the industrial revolution.

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