Last weekend I met up with a friend of mine from college. He is a
teacher in the special education field. As we were having a good time
reminiscing our old times we briefly touched on our current endeavors.
I mentioned this blog and my views on education. And as exciting as
that is – just kidding – he talked about his after school program with
the kids. It’s a robotics program. From a teaching perspective, it has
so many rewarding elements to it: it’s hands on, it teaches complex
problem solving (algorithms), it’s meaningful to the future, and it’s
This past Friday Roger Cohen wrote an Op-Ed piece for the NY Times
called Of Fruit Flies and Drones. He talks about the tremendous
advances going on in the world of robotics, specifically military drone
airplanes. These planes can be piloted in DC, Colorado, or some other
removed location. Cohen’s message is one of war ethics and how being
geographically removed from the scene can potentially lead to a
desensitized fighter – the deaths are still real.
But Cohen also talks about the different ideas that are needed for
robotics. In the case of flying drones, he elaborates on how fruit
flies see. As a fruit fly flies, it has objects that come in and go out
of it’s view. The objects in view grow larger as the fruit fly
approaches it and if it’s not a desirable banana or something it turns
away from the object. This concept is then applied to a robot. As a
drone approaches an object, the object in view increases in size. The
drone needs to calculate the rate at which the object is growing in
size and adjust the flight accordingly. Although this idea is very
simple, it’s layered with nuance. The first is that you have to teach
the drone what is something and what is nothing. For a non-sentient
being, I imagine this is hard.
In my last entry I talk about the economic advantage the US has in it’s
knowledge base. I reference artistic industries (movies and music) as
my example, but a better example would have been robotics. The
application of this knowledge base is not too far off and it can be
very widespread. Right now there are some kids in San Diego coming up
with something more than Rosie from the Jetsons.