Mechatronics

Space is the boundless three-dimensional extent in which objects and events have relative position and direction.

Since the early 1960’s, robotics has evolved from the traditional mechanical manipulator to also include (in addition to the above mentioned areas) Mechatronic Systems, Embedded Systems and Cyber Physical Systems (CPS). As the complexity of engineering systems increases, the new concept of ‘system of systems’ becomes a design principle and constraint, which includes multi-robot teams that work synergistically to complete complex missions that one individual robot cannot complete.

A unique thrust area within robotics is unmanned systems. The term ‘unmanned systems’ refers to all types of underwater, sea-surface, ground and aerial robotic platforms. Although at times controversial, there is nothing ‘unmanned’ in ‘unmanned systems’; such systems require (on average) four (4) operators to control them. Unmanned systems simply refer to systems that have no operator onboard – operators monitor and control them from a distance.

Research and development in Robotics within RSECS centers around two thrust areas: service robotics and unmanned vehicle systems. Objectives of on-going and in-progress research activities focus on: i.) Developing Co-Robots/Companionbots as assistants to individuals with social or mental disabilities (including children with special needs, and the elderly with depression, dementia), and, ii.) Developing the next generation of ‘complete’ unmanned systems endowed with attributes of autonomy and autonomous performance. It is of importance to state that orthogonal research and development to Co-Robots (Companionbot, service robotics) is bio-inspired robotics and bio-kinetics / biomechanics (including prosthetics and orthotics) and, in general, medical robotics.

The Financial Times state that “Rise of the robots is sparking an investment boom” and “Global influx of machines set to open one of the hottest new markets in tech”. It is also stated that after growing at a compound rate of 17 per cent a year, the robot market will be worth $135bn by 2019, according to IDC, a tech research firm, https://www.ft.com/content/5a352264-0e26-11e6-ad80-67655613c2d6. Figure 1 depicts the global robot market outlook. The service robot/personal services component is increasing exponentially compared to the relatively flat industrial robot component market. This trend is expected to continue, thus, the emphasis to develop Co-Robots is well justified. On the other hand, focusing just on the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) market, Figure 2 illustrates that, according to the Teal Group, UAVs is the most dynamic growth sector of the world aerospace industry this decade. The Teal Group states “New unmanned combat aerial vehicle programs, commercial, and consumer spending all promise to drive more than a tripling of the market over the next decade.” It is also stated that “…coverage of the civil UAV market continues to grow with each annual report, mirroring the increase in the civil market itself”, and, “[the] 2015 UAV study calculates the UAV market at 72% military, 23% consumer, 5% civil cumulative for the decade. Of the three areas, civil UAVs grow most rapidly over the forecast period as airspace around the world is opened, but it grows from a very low base.” Figure 3 shows the difference between total direct spending versus economic impact. Again, the emphasis to develop the next generation, NextGen, of UAVs endowed with autonomy attributes is well justified.

In addition, according to a research study by Tractica, annual shipments of consumer and service robots (e.g. vacuum robotic, lawn mowers and pool cleaners, social robots) will increase from 6.6 million units in 2015 to 31.2 million units, worldwide, by 2020. It is estimated a total of nearly 100 million consumer robots shipped during that period. According to the report, “the next 5 years will set the stage for how these robots could fundamentally transform our homes and daily lives.” All these reports and evidences strongly support that the timing is right to invest in robotics at DU and build on our current capabilities and strength and be a lead world-class research team in this area.