This Week in LIS - 13 September 2013

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Headline of the Week: ROS - Here Come the Robots

The September/October issue of MIT Technology Review included a feature it has been running annually for 10 years – 35 Innovators Under 35. This celebration of innovation and entrepreneurship calls attention to some of the most promising new technologists. It’s enthusing to read about the new folks and their new ideas and the associated technologies. It’s challenging to think about how those technologies might impact our lives and our work over time.

Included in the group this year is Morgan Quigley. Morgan wrote the first iteration of the program now called ROS – Robot Operating System - when he was a graduate student. It’s not really an operating system but rather a software framework that runs on top of Linux (an actual computer operating system) that provides a modular structure for plugging components together to simplify the creation of more complex robotic capability.

Frequently, at the beginning of a new technology’s lifecycle one can only get acceptable performance when all the components are coupled intimately together in an integrated design.  Over time, as the technology matures one can get acceptable performance with a more modular architecture. With the introduction of a modular architecture the rate and pace of innovation can take off.  Groups can work asynchronously of one another enhancing sub-components.  Specialization can develop. New offerings can be created by leveraging others’ work.

The claim is that as a result of ROS and the maturation of the field, robotics is about to take off.  We should anticipate the application of robotic technologies in more and more situations. We should expect the affordable boundary between what a machine can do and what a person can do will change. We can expect that those that are capable of working at that moving boundary will be in demand.

In an interesting way, applying robotic technology is the digitization of physical work. Wrestling with understanding the impact of the “digitization of everything” is on our minds.  This “disruptor” invites us to think about the boundaries between the physical and the virtual and how that boundary moves through time. A year ago we looked at a technology to teach robots through direct manipulation. Today we see an innovation that promises to accelerate the development and usage of robots through improvements in programming so the complexity is similar to creating an “app” for a smart phone.

What learning experiences will be important for our students if a world emerges where the relationships between machines and people become more frequent and important?  What are the implications and consequences of affordable robotic technology in the workplace?  How might we apply these technologies to improve our offerings or manage our costs?

Suggested Reading/Viewing/Listening:

Open-source software is making it nearly as easy to program a robot as it is to write an app.

Headline of the Week: Makers and Robots

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LIS Blog Highlights from the Week

The following articles are sampled from those available on the LIS Blog:

Notes from LIS Council

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This Week in LIS is published most Fridays by Paul Mattson, Executive Director of LIS at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.

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