Philosophical Society of Washington

Humans + Robots Will Make a Perfect Team - When?

Vladimir Lumelsky
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

2228th Meeting Abstract
Friday, November 9, 2007 at 8:15 PM


Vladimir Lumelsky

We humans know how to lead a task and adjust it to changing circumstances—and we know how to delegate. Robots are highly accurate and fast and strong, they outdo humans in spatial reasoning—and they need no coffee breaks. Sounds like a perfect team for assembly of a large space telescope or to help an elderly avoid the nursing home for another year or two. So, where are those robots and those teams?

Today “serious” (i.e. large and powerful enough) robots are restricted to specially designed structured environments. Their user manuals warn that under no circumstance can people share space with an operating robot. The reason is simple—these robots are strong enough to cause harm, yet their sensing and intelligence is “too dumb” to be trusted for human safety. In the roboticists' parlance, today's robots are not designed for an unstructured environment. This is less of a problem for robot rovers but quite difficult for arm manipulators. A human sharing space with a robot makes for a highly unstructured environment—yet there are urgent tasks where we need it: a robot astronaut assistant and a robot helper for the elderly are among them. Another option, the operator-guided robot, can work for some tasks (such as the Space Shuttle arm and the surgery robot), but it is inordinately slow for others: no space telescope-building astronaut and no elderly asking for a glass of juice will accept it.

The way out of this dilemma is to design robots fully capable of operating in an unstructured environment, of sensing things and acting upon them on the fly. This is a new terrain—the required hardware and intelligence must be more complex and sophisticated than what we know today. In this talk we will review related scientific and technical issues, and discuss solutions.

About the Author:

Vladimir Lumelsky is the head of the Laboratory of Robotics for Unstructured Environments at NASA-Goddard Space Center, and is Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at the University of Maryland-College Park. The long-term goal of the laboratory is to develop robots capable of operating in the uncertain and changing settings likely to arise in future NASA missions. This work builds upon his work on large sensitive robot skin systems prior to joining NASA in 2004.

Previously he was a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he was The Consolidated Papers Professor of Engineering. Before this he was on the faculty of Yale University. He has held a variety of positions in both the public and private sectors: he was Program Director at the National Science Foundation, and has led large technical projects, including development of a universal industrial robot controller at General Electric (GE Research Center), and a joint robot skin development effort with Hitachi Corporation. Dr. Lumelsky also has held temporary positions at the Science University of Tokyo (Japan), Weizmann Institute (Israel) and US South Pole Station, Antarctica.

He is the founding Editor-in-Chief of the IEEE Sensors Journal, and has served on editorial boards of other professional journals. He has been guest editor of special issues at professional journals; served on the Administrative Committees of IEEE Robotics Society and Sensors Council; chaired technical committees and working groups; and chaired and co-chaired major international conferences, workshops and special sessions. Dr. Lumelsky has served as a technical expert in legal cases, including multi-national litigation. He frequently gives talks at US and foreign universities, government groups, think tanks, and in industry.

He is a member of several professional societies, and is a Fellow of IEEE. He is a member of the Cosmos Club. He is the author of three books and over 200 professional papers covering the areas of robotics, computational intelligence, human-machine interaction, human spatial reasoning, massive sensor arrays, bio-engineering, control theory, kinematics, pattern recognition, and industrial automation.

He holds a B.S. and M.S. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the Institute of Precision Technology, St. Petersburg, Russia. He received his Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics from the Institute of Control Sciences, National Academy of Sciences, Moscow, in 1970.

←Previous Abstract - Directory of Archived Meetings - Next Abstract→