Nancey Green Leigh: We Are 'Shaping a Robotic Future at Georgia Tech'

Atlanta, GA

For National Robotics Week, we asked Nancey Green Leigh to talk about robotics and what's happening here at the College of Design and Georgia Tech.

Leigh is the associate dean for research in the College and last fall secured a grant from the National Science Foundation National Robotics Initiative to study the U.S. robotics industry and its economic impacts. She also is a professor in the School of City and Regional Planning.

She gave us her thoughts on robotics research and the industry.

1. Why should anyone research the robotics industry?

Robots are being developed and “employed” across the economy, on farms, in factories, warehouses, hotels and hospitals, to name just a few types of businesses using them. They will fundamentally transform daily life and work. Researchers are essential to making that transformation happen from a creative and technical perspective. They also have a key role to play in ensuring that robotics diffusion is not simply imposed upon society in a way the causes winners and losers, but, rather, leads to robotics’ full potential for enhancing all human experience and safeguarding the physical world.

2. How will robots affect city and regional planning?

City and regional planning includes a number of specializations that focus on the world in which we live, such as economic development, environment, housing, land use, and transportation. Robotics diffusion will affect all of these areas, but, currently, the most attention is being given to how autonomous vehicles (a kind of robot) will alter our transportation infrastructure, as well as greatly reduce the number of driver jobs.

3. Your peers are inventing and improving robots: What does Georgia Tech need to do to shape a future with robots?

We are already shaping a robotic future at Georgia Tech, but there is much to be done. Within the College of Design, in a great example of how robots can contribute to the arts and empowering those with disabilities, music Professor Gil Weinberg has developed a marimba-playing robotic musician that uses machine learning for jazz improvisation, as well as a prosthetic robotic arm for amputees that restores and enhances human drumming abilities. Associate Professor Russell Gentry offers a great example for architecture; he is using a Kuka robot for teaching robotic fabrication and for researching humans – robot collaboration in a fabrication setting.

4. What else should the Design academic community research about robots? 

We have a major research focus on assistive technologies involving several schools and research centers of the College of Design and robots will be an increasing part of such technologies. How robots navigate existing street, sidewalk and building infrastructure, and how their presence might influence future design of such infrastructure is another rich research area. And how the deployment of robots in multiple economic sectors affects current and future jobs will be a critical economic development question tying in with many aspects of the Design academic community.

Last revised December 15, 2017