Understanding the language of machines in a world of robots
The Spanish researcher Concepción Monje offers an optimistic and simple vision about the possibilities of robotics
Apart from being a pioneering woman in robotics research in Spain, Concha Monje is a professor at the Universidad Carlos III in Madrid who regularly gives conferences not only in academic circles, but also in simply informative ones. In fact, she has been advisor on science fiction film projects, having been awarded several prizes thanks to her knowledgeable work. Perhaps, because she knows better than anyone the importance of people understanding how the robots of today work and what they can offer us. “The current society needs to be trained, stay up to date on advancements. We should make an effort to understand the language of machines because, regardless of what we want, they will be present in every aspect of our lives.“
This is the same message she tried to bring to hundreds of young people at the El País con tu futuro Congress (The Country with your Future) organized by El País newspaper at the Palacio de Congresos in Madrid just a few weeks ago, “Young people have to know the possibilities that robotics offers. They must understand it and decide to work with it.” Monje knows what she’s talking about. The Laboratory of Robotics at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, the researcher’s natural habitat, has been involved in practical projects related to robotics and automation for decades. In fact, it has pioneered many of the studies carried out in Spain. Here, they’ve for 30 years been applying cutting edge knowledge, like Artificial Intelligence, to the data gathered by generations of researchers. “Robotics has more investigative potential in more developed countries around the world, like the United States or Japan, but very interesting things are being done in Europe as well.”
In precisely within this context that Concha has worked for more than a decade on developing robots with different abilities and objectives applied in various fields. “We work on a specific use of robotics, we are a medium for carrying out investigations in several fields”. That’s why they have several robots in the laboratory on which they work on a daily basis. Among them, she reveals, the robot she has worked the most with, TEO, a humanoid biped robot of the same weight and height as a human for which they are currently developing soft limbs. “TEO carries out locomotion, manipulation, and vision tasks. It is becoming increasingly skilled. For example, it can maintain its balanced if it is pushed.” Also, the robot is capable of transporting objects just as a waiter would or detecting if an article of clothing has wrinkles so that it can later iron it.
However, TEO is not the only robot being researched by the department. “I think that the future of robotics will be deeply related to health. In some countries – and it seems that Spain and other European countries are headed this way – health is the main objective of their research.” Inspired by this challenge, in Professor Monje’s research lab they work for example on designing and building robotic exoskeletons for the rehabilitation of limbs damaged by cerebrovascular accidents: “always taking into account the help and advice of a therapist, we are working with patients who may have suffered, for example, a stroke. It’s another example demonstrating how robots can help us in our daily lives.”
The actions of the department where the researcher works are characterized by the high scientific and technological level and demonstrate with each new discovery the future possibilities that such a changing and innovative field, like robotics, offers in practically every sector of our economy. It’s perhaps for this reason it is important that young people adopt to a versatile field of research, opting to be trained in robotics. Among the attendees at Monje’s conference, were an important number of women. Looking to Concha as a reference is an incredible opportunity for most of them. “Robotics, and science as a whole, has been a typically male-dominated field, especially because of the lack of references. Fortunately, this is becoming less true and it would be quite normal, as is already happening, that it’s in everyone’s best interest to work with machines and to research robotics.”