Robotics’ Multidisciplinary Approach Means Team Players

Panasonic’s hair-washing robot is a presentation I would have liked to have seen this week at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation. The company claims its robot has gentle “scrubbing fingers” and is designed to free workers at hospitals and nursing homes for other tasks.

And while the robot evokes a bit of terror in me and I’m not sure I’d want it sudsing up my hair, it also generates a can’t-look-away sensation. It also is an example of a growing trend to use a multidisciplinary approach to robotics.

A Multi-Minded Approach

Personally Assisted Living Project

The University of Minnesota, for example, is using Microsoft’s Kinect to help detect autism in its early stages, while Jorge Rios-Martinez, another presenter at the conference, is using robots to serve or carry fragile patients as part of his Personally Assisted Living project.

Rios-Martinez, in an email interview, says the robotics field is becoming more multidisciplinary. Citing the University of Minnesota example, he says:

This cross-disciplinary research seeks to create a diagnostic instrument for mental disorders that combines the fields of computer vision/robotics and computer science with child psychology and psychiatry.

Rios-Martinez, whose project involves teaching robots manners, so to speak, works for INRIA, a French research center in informatics and mathematics.

The devices he’s working on must keep the patient’s comfort in mind, attending to conventions of personal space and not interrupting during conversations.

Robotics Jobs Need Team Players

Robotics jobs are increasingly needing more than just great engineers, the industry is calling for those who can also work well with professionals in other fields, Rios-Martinez says in his email:

In my opinion, candidates with background in computer engineering or electronics engineering with a great sense of team collaboration are needed. I mentioned collaboration because the objectives … are linked to psychology, health sciences and cognitive sciences, so candidates with these last trainings are also required.

Robotics continues to make news, whether assisting with surgery, detecting underwater mines, or allowing an ailing Texas kid to send a telepresence bot to his school in his place.

The convention’s keynote speakers have backgrounds in mechanical engineering, but as Dice blogger Don Willmott explained, jobs aren’t just limited to mechanical and electrical engineers; software skills play an important role, too. Employers also look for degrees in computer science or software engineering along with excellent programming skills, particularly in C/C++.

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