Growing up in the modern age means many things to many people. For those of us reading (or writing) a book on robotics, it means getting a healthy dose of technology. Hollywood has raised us on spaceships, cloning, alien worlds and intelligent machines. This was, however, not incredibly unrealistic as progress in science and technology has been advancing at an ever increasing rate. We have come to expect something new, maybe even dramatic, every single year…and for the most part haven’t been disappointed! Over the years we have seen significant developments in medicine, space, electronics, communications and materials. There has always been excitement regarding the latest development. Even though the world around us has been struggling with war, poverty and disease, science and technology offers us a reprieve. It is an optimistic view that things can and will get better. In full disclosure - we love technology! It is the magic of our age and learning how the magic works only makes it more fun. In no way does the author claim that technology is the answer to our problems. That clearly lies with our willingness to look beyond our differences with acceptance, compassion and grace. If technology can bring us together, then it has succeeded in helping us far beyond our wildest dreams.
Robotics is a shining example of technical optimism - a belief that the human condition can be improved through sufficiently advanced technology. It is the premise that a machine can engage in the difficult, the tedious, and the dangerous; leaving humans out of harms way. Technology is a fancy word for tool utilization. Even though biologists have long shown that humans were not alone in their usage of tools, we are indisputably the master tool users on the planet. Tools extend our grasp, our strength and our speed. We know of no technology that aims to extend human capability like robotics does.
Humans have an insatiable curiosity, a drive to create, and a considerable amount of self-interest. Building machines which look like us, act like us and do things like us was the engineering manifest destiny. Although we have succeeded in building machines that do complicated tasks, we really place the value in what we learn about ourselves in the process. A process we embark on here.