Sounds like a complex program, right?

Was your solution as complex as mine? Or did you intuitively simplify the process?

I’m willing to bet that your solution was more complicated than it needed to be. This is normal. We think about how we ourselves would complete the task and we try to program the same sequence into the robot.

We often forget to simplify the task right at the beginning.

How the Father of Robotics Would Have Solved This Problem

I use the example of making an omelet because it is similar to one used by Joseph Engelberger — the inventor of the first industrial robot who is sometimes called the father of modern robotics.

An interviewer once asked him if he could make a robot which could manipulate and break an egg for cooking.

Joseph Engelberger replied:

“[Yes you could do it] but the chances are you’re going to use the egg as a fluid, not as an egg. You don’t have to go through all that agony of doing that because you can buy [cartons of pre-cracked eggs]. Just take the fluid and pour it out.”

Look again at my solution above. How many steps could I remove by simplifying the “part presentation” (i.e the form of the eggs)? Also, while we’re working on simplification, there’s no need for the spatula — the robot could just pick up the pan and flip the cooked omelet onto the plate.

With these two simple changes, I count that I could reduce the number of steps from 15 to just 10. Plus, the task would now require much less dexterity as the robot no longer needs to manipulate the egg or spatula. Plus, by making a custom-built pan handle, the task could even be achieved with a 2-Finger Gripper.

Engelberger took a hugely pragmatic approach to robotics, as I explained in an article we published about him when he died three years ago. If a simpler solution was available, he would pick it over a more complex one. The functionality and utility of robots was far more important to him than flashy technology.

This year, we should all take a leaf out of Joseph Engelberger’s book and look for simple solutions to uncomplicated problems.

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