This was a great interview with Andrew Moore, Dean of CMU’s School of CS.
What’s the most pressing area of research in robotics?
We have a dirty secret. One of the reasons we’re having this renaissance in AI in the last few years is that we’ve become very good at computer vision. We’ve become very good at learning, so that robots no longer need to be programmed for every possible eventuality—they just adapt to their environment. That’s why you’re seeing this big burst in robotics, in car industries and the logistics industries and retail and medicine and so forth. But we have not had the same success in grasping and manipulation. The claw of the hand of the robot being dextrous, quickly moving around and picking things up without breaking them. That’s where we’re devoting a huge amount of effort. Roboticists around the world are focusing on that. Until then, robots will be deployed in areas where they’re not controlling manipulation, but they’re controlling machines and detecting problems, moving large bulky objects around. We’ve given ourselves a 5-year moonshot project. We want to put a robot arm on 100,000 powered wheelchairs in the US. The goal is that the people on those wheelchairs who have high spinal cord injuries or degenerative diseases, can’t use their own arms, look at an object, hold their focus on it, and the robot arm will reach to pick it up and place it where the user looks or indicates. If we can get this problem solved—we think there’s a 50/50 chance to do it in five years—it will be an extremely good thing for all the people who need this help. It’s a big test to see if we’ve broken the barriers of manipulation. This is exactly what we did about 15 years ago with self-driving car technology. That one panned out.
Are schools meeting the demands?
There’s been a lot of progress, and I’m excited by the new inclusion of CS in the New York curriculum. In Queensland, Australia, robotics is becoming an actual part of the required curriculum for kids. The countries that really push the math and statistics behind AI are the ones that will prosper in the long run.
How is CMU dealing with recruiting more women into tech?
We’re really passionate about this. We’re the first university to have broken through the 40% barrier