The capacity to improve daily life

Two students working with a robot

“Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!” This famous quote may echo in the minds of some when the term “robot” is brought into a conversation. Though we don’t have fully autonomous, human-like robots just yet, they are being used for a number of jobs and functions already.

“Robots have been a significant part of our lives for quite some time,” said Anthony Clark, assistant professor of computer science at Missouri State University. “A large part of automated manufacturing and fabrication is completed with robots, and we are starting to see these industrial-style devices work their way into more applications, such as brewing coffee and preparing food. They are also used quite heavily in scientific exploration.”

Robots in centimeters

Clark’s research focuses on small—think centimeters—autonomous robots. He studies how the adaptability and robustness of robotic devices can be improved. To conduct this research, Clark uses different methods:

  • Evolutionary optimization – A population of robots compete against each other and the better robots are preferentially chosen to create the next generation.
  • Bioinspiration – Researchers take design ideas from living animals. For example, the flexibility of a fish’s caudal fin, or the adhesive properties of a gecko’s appendages.
  • Adaptive control theory – This includes a large amount of rigorously proven methods and practices for dealing with varying environmental conditions.
  • Soft robotics – Traditional rigid components and actuators are incorporated with flexible materials to improve the performance and safety of designs.

‘Robots have the capacity to improve lives’

Though a majority of robots are used in manufacturing, they can also be used in environments that are too hazardous for humans, such as locating victims during disaster recovery or assisting humans in dangerous occupations such as mining and firefighting.

Robots have also started being used in the field of health care.

“Two applications that we’ll see soon are in assistance and surgery,” said Clark. “Robotic devices are being developed to act as medical assistants where they can help check patient vitals and deliver medication at set times. This has the chance to bring down medical costs for people who cannot easily afford in-home caretakers.

“Robots are also being developed to aid in surgery and other in-hospital scenarios. The precision of robotic devices has the potential to reduce the risks of some surgical procedures.”

Robotics at Missouri State

As the field of robotics grows, so does the interest at Missouri State. Clark is currently working on an autonomous mobile robot that can adaptively adjust its traction, and some faculty members are using robots as tools in their work.

“We are in the early stages of creating a student robotics team, and several students have begun working on their own robot-based projects,” said Clark. “To address these interests, MSU’s library is establishing a robotics space where students can come check-out mobile robots and learn to program them.”

For more information, contact Clark at 417-836-5438.

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