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Robotics is changing our lives

A few years ago, much of the content you have covered in this course would have been discussed exclusively in research laboratories, but robots have now shifted firmly from science fiction to science fact. This shift requires us to change the way we discuss the impact of robotics, moving the discussion from the theoretical to the concrete.

Automation

Modern factories have been transformed by robots, and our society has been transformed by the resulting improvements in efficiency and production rates. The lifestyle you lead now has been shaped by robotics, from the food you buy in supermarkets to the car you drive and even the books you read.

An illustration of a robot painting a picture of another robot.

AI and machine learning are huge industries, and these technologies are constantly improving. The jobs of our muscles are already at risk, and protected for now only by the cost of robotics. What happens when robots come for the jobs of our minds as well? More complex tasks, particularly creative ones, are next in line for a robotic revolution. How will we handle robots that have the ability to learn, lead whole companies, and even design new robots?

For more discussion on the impact of technology, including automation and robotics, you can join our other course, Impact of Technology: How to Lead Classroom Discussions.

The impact of robotics

Industry

The production industry is not the only sector to take advantage of robots. Earlier, you heard about warehouse robots that help with packing and shipping orders for large retailers. You also learnt about robots being used to navigate dangerous environments; some industrial environments definitely fit this bill. Mining is a good example of this, and not just mining for coal or oil, but also for the precious metals and materials used in the components inside our mobile phones and computers.

A robot that has dug a hole looking really happy because it has found gold!

Robots drastically improve efficiency in industry, and this can lead to large increases in production. The resources used are not bottomless, however, and neither is the energy required; without regulation we are at risk of overconsumption.

Medicine

Surgical robots are being used, to the benefit of both patients and staff. These machines are tools that a surgeon controls to perform surgeries through tiny incisions in a patient’s body. The robots are very small and extremely accurate, so they cause far less trauma than traditional surgery, meaning quicker recovery times and fewer complications after the operation. Looking to the future, you can see a world where AI and medical robots merge. Intelligent surgical robots could perform surgeries independently, leading to a boost in the availability of high-quality medical care.

A doctor robot, attending a patient in a bed. The patient is smiling but looks slightly uneasy.

The main downside of surgical robotics is the cost. Surgical robots are currently far too pricey for every hospital to be able to afford one. This restricts the care to wealthier areas; a drop in cost may eventually help to increase access to this resource. Lastly, there is a very important side of medicine that robots cannot currently replace: patient bedside care. The care nurses, doctors, and hospital staff provide comfort to patients, and for now this remains a task that only a human can accomplish.

Education

Robotics provides enormous benefits to computing education. Robots are cool, and they remain one of the biggest attractions to computing education, bringing fledgling roboticists to courses such as this one. In order to be a successful roboticist, you need the knowledge and skills provided by computer science. Some learners enjoy getting involved in robot competitions, and these offer a mixture of competitiveness and fun to engage learners, with learning as a side effect of participation.

A podium with people on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd positions standing next to their robots looking proud

There is still work to be done to make the subject more inclusive. Robotics is still a selective subject, with relatively high entry requirements, both financially and cognitively. A lot of work has been done to improve this, and robotics is more accessible now than ever before. As I am sure you have noticed, the subject is still quite challenging for beginners, and a lot of resilience is necessary. There is an argument that this is not a bad thing, and that robotics also has a place in education as an extension activity to push more confident learners.

Robotics in your life

You have heard about a few ways in which robots have impacted our society and will continue to do so in the future.

How have robots impacted your life, or the society you live in?

This could be on one of the areas I spoke about above, or another experience you have had.

Share your answers in the comments.

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This article is from the free online course:

Robotics With Raspberry Pi: Build and Program Your First Robot Buggy

Raspberry Pi Foundation