[Into the Future With Samsung Research ⑥] Samsung Research America: Powering the Future of Tomorrow – and Today – With Advanced Robotics ResearchShare open/close
Following Episode 5
In this relay series, Samsung Newsroom is introducing tech experts from Samsung’s R&D centers around the globe to hear more about the work they do and the ways in which it is directly improving the lives of consumers.
The sixth and final expert in the series is Brian Harms, a Research Engineer at Samsung Research America (SRA). Following 8 years of exploration into advanced robotics research at SRA, Harms and his team now employ an innovative array of methods in order to work towards changing the way robots are made and perceived. Read on to learn more about the fascinating research Harms and his team are undertaking at SRA.
Q. Can you please briefly introduce the kind of work you undertake at Samsung Research America?
In addition to developing innovative technologies, SRA is conducting research into various fields including AI, 5G/6G communication, Digital Health, AR and Robotics for Samsung’s future innovation.
When I joined SRA, I was drawn to one in particular of my team’s key areas of focus, which was imagining how robots will affect the future of our homes and everyday lives. A lot of my work at SRA focuses on prototyping experiences as rapidly as possible so that we can make decisions about how certain devices or products should or shouldn’t work.
Our projects usually start very organically, and individuals are encouraged to pursue their ideas and then bring them to the team for feedback and creative input. Thanks to our strong relationships with different divisions within Samsung, our team is empowered to think about a really wide variety of ways we can improve people’s lives, and that freedom and support is a really cool aspect of what we do in the Think Tank Team at SRA.
Q. Following the recent accolades you have received for your work in advanced robotics, what are you and your team working on at the moment?
At any one time we may have approximately 10 to 20 projects that are happening simultaneously, but that operate on different time scales and with different resources. In past years our team’s goal was to have the majority of those projects aim to be ‘productizable’ within 3 to 5 years if successful, but in more recent years we have shifted our goal towards 1 to 3 years, as we are striving to make a strong impact on the user-facing market as quickly as possible.
In order to achieve this, we are working on several projects within the umbrella of practical robotics whose scopes are mindfully constrained so that we can work with different teams to transform these prototypes into products. Our goal is to find a balance where we provide a great deal of user value while still constraining the problem space within realistic bounds. We also pride ourselves in being optimistic about finding room for innovation, even in products that have largely remained the same over many years.
Our team is also currently working on many projects that are outside the realm of robotics, including new apps, phone features, connectivity devices and improved appliances with the goal of empowering users and keeping them connected.
Q. Practical robotics is a field that provides innovative and convenient user experiences and is primed to change the way we think about robots. Can you elaborate on this further?
I think that it is important for people to rethink what they consider to be “robots” because the way they are defined tends to vary greatly. Many common definitions might clash with each other or reject some actual robotic devices from the category. Personally, I lean towards an extremely inclusive definition along the lines of: if a machine actuates automatically in response to stimuli, you might as well call it a robot.
The reason I think it is important for people to take a moment to consider what robots really are is that so-called “practical robots” are all around us and affect us every day of our lives in impactful ways. Consider a mattress with sensors that measure sleep quality or temperature, adjust the mattress’ position with actuators and cool the user by pumping fluid through a network of tubes. I think by almost any definition of robot, this is a robot – but perhaps the owner of such a mattress might not actively consider it one.
From automatic doors at grocery stores to cars that measure their distance to other cars and adjust speed accordingly and even to coffee makers that brew a fresh pot of coffee for you in the morning through sensor detection – these are all robots, and if you were to accept this idea of what a robot is, you’ll start seeing them much more frequently in your day-to-day life.
Q. What do you see as the main user benefits brought about by the implementation of novel robot capabilities into consumer-facing technological devices?
The main user benefit brought by the inclusion of robotic technologies in a device will of course vary by device and the problem it solves for the user, but if I had to generalize, I think that the benefits boil down to making an activity or experience faster, easier, safer or more rewarding. Automation is a powerful mechanism in affecting these four criteria, whether it is in an industrial manufacturing plant or someone’s living room.
Q. Your team is made up of a unique range of researchers from a diverse range of backgrounds. Can you give an example of a time when this ability to ideate in an interdisciplinary manner resulted in the development of an innovative new robotics approach or technology?
Occasionally we hold brainstorming sessions where 1 or 2 people have an idea they want to turn into a project. Those people come up with a series of questions or prompts for the participants, and then every person in the room takes a stack of sticky notes and fills as many as they can with ideas and sketches for the new project and puts them all up on the wall. The cool thing about this is that when the prompts are about potential industrial design ideas, for example, we have not only industrial designers, but also programmers, scientists, electrical engineers and more, all responding to the same prompts in different ways.
Through this kind of multidisciplinary collaboration, designers on our team benefit from developing an improved understanding of what is technically possible, and engineers get a better understanding of what constraints good design might add to the project. What this results in is a team made up of designers who speak the language of engineering, and engineers that can speak the language of design. This kind of collaboration was critical for a project like Samsung Bot™ Chef, where both the aesthetic and engineering elements were highly dependent on one another.
Q. What would you designate as the latest trends in robotics technology right now? How are you incorporating them into your research at SRA?
Automation and robotics are evergreen fields that are growing exponentially at the moment. The main way we approach projects is to first identify a need or possible method of improving some aspect of daily life, and then consider the mechanisms for executing the idea. Fortunately, automation and robotics are effective tools that lend themselves well to addressing and solving some of these problems.
Our future product concept Samsung Bot™ Chef was one result of us monitoring the latest trends. Our then-team head noticed that there was a huge gap between the kinds of low-cost, low-performance robot arms you might see on crowdfunding platforms and the high-cost, high-performance of industrial robot arms, and had a strong intuition that there was opportunity in the consumer market for a robot offering in between the two. The goal there was to minimize end user cost while maximizing performance and capability, which took us down a long road towards designing our own servo mechanisms from scratch. What we created is one of the best-looking robot arms that I’ve seen on or off the market, that is tailor made for interacting with the same everyday objects that we use at home.
Q. When you envisage a future powered by innovative robotics technologies, what does it look like?
When I picture the future, I try to imagine “what might a typical day look like for me.” I would hope that, in the future, robotics and automation provide opportunities for me to preserve more time for myself to do the activities that I love. Between maintaining relationships, work, hobbies, errands, finding time to rest and unexpected events in life, I constantly feel that I lack the time or energy to engage with each of these activities in balance. I believe that automation might be one mechanism that will help me preserve more of my time so that I can spend it in ways that I choose in order to feel more fulfilled.
Q. What has been your most important achievement at SRA so far, or the one that you are most proud of?
I was really proud of our team achieving our Samsung Bot™ Chef demonstration in Berlin, Germany at IFA 2019. It truly took a monumental amount of effort for us to design, manufacture and assemble completely new versions of Samsung Bot™ Chef from the ground up, by hand. We also had to plan a complex demo, program all of the interactions, and test everything repeatedly, not to mention transport our demo robots to Germany, work around the construction of the demo kitchen and collaborate with the host chefs. It was a really challenging but rewarding experience that not only brought our team closer together, but also reminded us that when we are united in pursuit of a single goal we can achieve amazing things.
In this series, Samsung Newsroom has introduced six tech leaders from Samsung R&D Institutes around the world who are actively involved in advanced technology development. Through the consolidation of the research and development capabilities of experts in Samsung’s R&D institutes, just a few of whom have been showcased in this series, Samsung is able to bring next-level technologies and experiences to users in their devices. Samsung Research currently sees collaboration between the experts in its 14 R&D institutes in 12 different countries around the world.
In the future, collaboration will be a key factor towards advancing research into advanced technology. Samsung will continue to work towards a better future powered by innovation, inspired by daily routines and designed for users.
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