By Brian Huse, Director, Marketing & PR, Robotic Industries Association
According to lore, the U.S. Navy’s Aegis Missile Defense System owes much of its current status to guitarist Jeff Baxter of the rock band the Doobie Brothers. The band released songs in the 1980’s that continue to get airtime at contemporary and oldies rock stations today. Now, in a way, Jeff Baxter is helping us shoot down broken satellites before they fall into a China grove or California vineyard.
This was on my mind not long ago when the United States prepared to shoot down a newly launched and totally broken spy satellite. I sat in a Wendy’s restaurant at lunchtime reading about the first-ever mission to destroy a falling satellite with Aegis technology while “What a Fool Believes” by the Doobie Brothers played above me on the restaurant’s speakers.
You might remember that day. There was a full lunar eclipse in the evening. Also, NASA had just delivered a new, 30,000-pound addition to the International Space Station (the European Space Agency’s science lab module, “Columbus.”)
I find it fascinating that the satellite we shot down that day weighed about 10,000 pounds, and meanwhile the space station calls for nearly a million pounds of total mass by the time it is completed, but I digress.
Anyway, why blog about such a strange day in space exploration on a site devoted to robotics? Call it homage to my everlasting taste for funky music, space exploration and cool science, and how all these topics can sometimes come together in such spectacular ways.
For instance, did you know a Canadian-built robot called Dextre is on the roster of tenants for the space station? It is designed to work on the outside of the station and help minimize the need for manned space walks to perform dangerous and/or routine maintenance. (If all goes as planned, Dextre will be “onboard” the space station within days of this blog’s posting.)
With two arms, a torso of sorts and onboard vision, the robot is said to be very sophisticated and yet very basic. It is not some automaton with artificial intelligence, but rather a multi-axis, reprogrammable device that can use different tools and work remotely under the command of people who stay safe inside the orbiting vessel.
People right here on earth already use two-armed robots, and robots with machine vision, and specialized robots for handling hazardous or routine jobs. Thanks to decades of work on human-machine interfaces and tremendous advancements in cheap computing power, these machines are essential and commonplace at many businesses.
But robots will never take the place of artists and musicians; much less make inspirational jumps from the music studio to military think tanks.
Thanks in a way to the Doobie Brothers, we have some great old music and unmatched defense technology.
And thanks to some very smart and creative people in our industry, new and interesting robot applications are coming out all the time.
Speaking of interesting, some of the most successful people in the robotics industry belong to Robotic Industries Association, and as you might imagine, I hope one day you will join us. In fact, please come to Boston in the summer when we hold Robots 2008 “What’s Next” (click here for more details.)
Just for kicks and grins, how many song references can you find in this blog?