Have you ever noticed that when people talk about robotics and automation that everyone is SO into the hardware? “Isn’t that robotic vehicle cool”, they’ll say or “Did you see the dancing robot?” But anyone who has worked with robotics knows that the hardware is rather dull. Building a robot requires collecting a bunch of hardware and sensors and then assembling it into a robot. But at this point, the robot just sits there, looking cool, without actually doing anything. It’s actually a bit like a doll or toy car at this point. It certainly isn’t a robot.
The next step of building a robot is the same whether you are building your first Lego robot or building a robotic vehicle that will head to the outer reaches of space or dive deep in the ocean. You have to write the software that controls the robot, receives inputs from the sensors, and integrates with any payloads. It’s the software that gives every robot “life”.
As software developers, we hear lots of statements about how new hardware is going to change the future of robotics but to be honest, in my opinion, hardware is not going to change the future. Until the laws of physics change, changes in hardware will be incremental. Hardware will get lighter, faster, and less expensive but until there’s a radical invention, change will be hard to see. The big changes in robotics will come through software.
It’s the software that will make new technologies like crew-less vessels for transporting goods or deploying ROVs for subsea infrastructure inspections work safely and economically.
It’s the software that will allow naval EOD technicians to be moved far away from the explosive device they are disarming.
It’s the software that will allow resident ROVs to remain deployed at sea for observation of offshore wind farms.
It’s the software that drives the future of ocean robotics.