A Software Revolution Is About to Sweep Robotics

Robert Ambrose
August 11, 2022
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The tech industry has made incredible strides in recent years when it comes to what is possible with robotics, refining hardware and mechanical dexterity. The next frontier? Perfecting robotic software for more streamlined interfaces, making robotics more accessible to all.

Over the past decade, the tech industry has made immeasurable strides when it comes to what robots are physically capable of — how they move, walk and even hold and manipulate delicate objects. Compare the classic, but clunky, K9 character from Doctor Who, an early conception of how a canine robot could move and walk, to Boston Dynamics’ nimble Spot and it’s clear, we’re already surpassing our wildest expectations when it comes to dynamic robotic hardware.

However, decades of focus on refining hardware (to the point that we’ve achieved mechanical dexterity fit for both bartending and careful surgery) has primed the robotics industry for a software revolution. Pioneering robots across industries that can not only move perfectly, but act intelligently, is the next frontier. The software powering tomorrow’s robots will also streamline the complex interfaces we see on them today, making robots more accessible to all.

The space industry has long honed the cutting edge of robotics and acted as a role model for the melding of advanced hardware and software. Brimming with talent and driven by the necessities of semi-autonomy when you’re millions of miles from Earth, NASA has developed some of the most impressive robotics software. Astrobee, for example, flies freely within the International Space Station, autonomously taking inventory, moving cargo and documenting experiments to aid astronauts without creating yet another chore: directing the robot. As a veteran of the industry, I have an idea of some of the changes we can expect to see in the robotics industry as the era of widespread software advancement begins.

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Robert Ambrose
Robert Ambrose

Dr. Robert Ambrose is the chairman of robotics and artificial intelligence at Alliant Group, and the former chief of software, robotics, and simulation at NASA. Dr. Ambrose holds a doctorate in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas.

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