Robotics Automation for Societal Good: Underlying Challenges in Humanitarian Technology, Sustainability, and Public Policy
Many of the existing Robotics & Automation (R&A) technologies are at a sufficient level of maturity and are widely accepted by the academic (and to a lesser extent by the industrial) community after having undergone the scientific rigor and peer reviews that accompany such works. I believe that most of the past and current research and development efforts in robotics and automation have been squarely aimed at increasing the Standard of Living (SoL) in developed economies where housing, running water, transportation, schools, access to healthcare, to name a few, are taken for granted. Humanitarian R&A, on the other hand, can be taken to mean technologies that can make a fundamental difference in people’s lives by alleviating their suffering in times of need, such as during natural or man-made disasters or in pockets of the population where the most basic needs of humanity are not met, thus improving their Quality of Life (QoL) and not just SoL.
My current work focuses on the applied use of robotics and automation technologies for the benefit of under-served and under-developed communities by working closely with them to develop solutions that showcase the effectiveness of R&A solutions in domains that strike a chord with the beneficiaries. This is made possible by bringing together researchers, practitioners from industry, academia, local governments, and various entities such as the IEEE Robotics Automation Society’s Special Interest Group on Humanitarian Technology (RAS-SIGHT), NGOs, and NPOs across the globe. I will share some of my efforts and thoughts on challenges that need to be taken into consideration including sustainability of developed solutions and underlying public policy issues.
Raj Madhavan is the Founder & CEO of Humanitarian Robotics Technologies, LLC and a Distinguished Visiting Professor of Robotics with AMMACHI Labs at Amrita University, Kerala, India. He has held appointments with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (March 2001-January 2010) as an R&D staff member based at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (March 2002-June 2013), and as an assistant and associate research scientist, and as a member of the Maryland Robotics Center with the University of Maryland, College Park (February 2010-December 2015). He received a Ph.D. in Field Robotics from the University of Sydney and an ME (Research) in Systems Engineering from the Australian National University. Over the last 20 years, he has contributed to topics in field robotics, and systems and control theory. His current research interests lie in humanitarian robotics and automation –the application and tailoring of existing and emerging robotics and automation technologies from a variety of domains, including unmanned (aerial, ground) vehicles. He is particularly interested in the development of technologies and systems that are cost effective, reliable, efficient and geared towards improving the quality of lives of people in under-served and underdeveloped communities around the globe. He has authored over 185 papers in archival journals, conferences, and magazines including three books and four journal special issues. He has been active in various leadership roles with IEEE and IEEE Robotics and Automation Society. He is the Founding Chair of the Special Interest Group on Humanitarian Technology (RAS-SIGHT) and is the 2016 recipient of the IEEE RAS Distinguished Service Award for his “distinguished service and contributions to RAS industrial and humanitarian activities”. See http://ammachilabs.org/faculty/raj/ for more details.