Since I was a kid, advances in robotics were always things you heard about coming out of MIT or deep-research companies making strides in brand new technologies. It was always the stuff of rarified geniuses and was always really about the future.
Now, as I approach the sunset of my career, is the future finally here? And, what does it mean if it is?
A few years ago, decided to take up robotics as a hobby. My software career had gotten almost completely political with very little coding or technical work of any kind left in it. I needed to feed my 40-year addiction to coding and the idea of doing things with my hands, like building a robot, in addition seemed like an appealing add-on to just picking a coding project for myself.
Attempted to get into robotics as a hobby before, in the “early-aughts”. While there were plenty of robotics hobby sites on the web and a fair number of resources out there at that time, I didn’t get very far. At that point, things were still pretty crude and seriously “hackish”. All of which translates to: those without pretty serious electronics chops at least available need not apply.
When I decided to investigate it again, was mostly to see if things had changed enough for me to be more successful now and the answer was a loud, glaring, resounding yes. Now, things that were mere dreams for hacks like me at that time are accessible, inexpensive, and simple to use.
Now you have 360-degree LIDAR sensors for under $100.00, depth cameras that can tell you the exact distance to every pixel in a high-resolution image and free or low-cost AI web services that make things like face and object recognition simple. And of course, now there’s 3D printers that pretty much make Star Trek replicators available for projects at about the same cost as a low-end PC.
Bottom line, most of the things it takes to make projects that seemed like science fiction as recently as four or five years ago can be had for a few hundred dollars now. And, they can be used by mere humans. No 195 IQ score and/or multi-discipline degree from MIT required.
The interesting thing to me is, it seems the perception of what it takes to design and produce robots is still sitting on the same pedestal as always to some extent at least. I’ve found this to be particularly true when looking at the software that’s available for building robotic control programs.
I promise, we're not out to bash ROS or any of the other players in this market-niche. With no question, there are a number of very strong, industrial-strength and successful products in the space. But it does seem to me like it could be time for simpler and easier to learn solutions to emerge.
I started working with personal computers in the early 1980’s. Some don’t remember the “great shakeout” in the PC world that happened when they first began to take hold. For all their promise, early PC’s were slow and complicated to use and, while they were undeniably cool, only “nerds” really knew much about using them.
For most “normal” people, there really wasn’t much to do with them. There were early games which were fun and word processors and spreadsheets were nice but, at their core, most people still viewed them as obtuse, intimidating machines.
Then the Macintosh was released, and everything changed overnight. Suddenly, graphic artists and schoolteachers were significant segments of the market for PC’s. Computers went from being mysterious, esoteric business and scientific tools to being creative miracle-boxes that made a multitude of new, creative pursuits possible.
We believe the time has come for a similar revolution to happen in the robotics field. It’s time for it to be a question of coming up with the coolest idea and having the knowledge it doesn’t take a staff of scientists to make it real. This idea is what motivated my partner and I to launch our company, “Our Robot Dreams” and our product, The "Robby Framework".
We want to “democratize” the robotics field and to release the world’s creative juices on it without being bound by the technical difficulties of it. We can’t say if our product will accomplish this, but it is the dream we’re pursuing with it. We call it the pursuit of "Robby-ness".
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