George Lucas Would Feel Right At Home At 2012 ICRA
May 18, 2012

George Lucas Would Feel Right At Home At 2012 ICRA

Lee Rannals for

Ever wondered what it would be like to be in a George Lucas scene from Star Wars?  Just attend a robot conference.

The 2012 International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) can fill the void of wanting to be around Droid's in an environment of people that seem to find it natural.

On the exhibit floor at the River Centre in St. Paul, Minnesota this week, a scene can be found that would bring a smile to even Lucas' face.

As you walk around the event, robots can be seen roaming around, uncontrolled, unsupervised, finding their own way around the exhibit floor without the help of their human friends.

As exhibitors talk to attendees, no one seems phased by the fact that robots are rolling around behind them, and between them, trying to find their own way around the facility.

Some robots can be seen showing off talents like grabbing bowls off other robots, then placing them into a bag.  Nearly every booth has at least a robot arm, whether for the industrial world or medical world.

However, although for the most part everything seems to be from a science fiction movie, there is a common denominator between nearly all the robots.  Microsoft's Kinect controller for Xbox 360 is being utilized on nearly every floor-bearing bot.

One booth operator from Willow Garage told me that the reason Kinect is so popular to use is because it is a cheaper alternative, since other sensor devices similar to the Kinect can cost thousands of dollars.

The Kinect is a motion sensing device that is used in the gaming world as a controller for your body.  But, in the robot world, the Kinect has a higher calling.

The device is used on some bots to map out an area, and report back to a computer its surroundings so it has a better understanding of its environment.

On other robots, the Kinect is used to identify objects, like bowls, and map out their movements so they are able to grab the object while it´s on the move.

The addition of the Kinect sensor device in the technology realm is just one more step that has been taken to help drive down the cost of robotics, which will inevitably make it accessible to the consumer world.

As some electronics we use in our daily lives today require a bit of knowledge about how to work a device like a smartphone, in the future, we may need a basic lesson in robotics.  Most of the robots on display at the 2012 ICRA are "open source," so if you had a basic knowledge in programming, you could take a device like the Microsoft Kinect and create nearly endless applications.

So as the older generation needs some extra explaining when it comes to using tablet devices, the Facebook generation now in their 20s may one day need the same type of advice from their children, but rather a lesson on robotics.

It may seem a little premature to be writing about robotics being a part of everyone's life, but considering it took nearly three decades for personal computers to get implemented into the everyday lifestyle, maybe jumping ahead of the trend is a good idea for those who do not wish to be humbled by their more technologically advanced child.