My advisor, Dr. Lydia Kavraki, likes to define robots as “systems that observe their environment and change it in response”. If this seems too general to you, then you have begun to perceive the fundamental problem of robotics research: almost any mechanical or organic system can be thought of as a robot. And for all the things that can be called robots, there are as many definitions of the most important questions in robotics. We can’t even agree on the right approach! If you ask a roboticist with a mechanical engineering background to solve a problem, they will solve a very different version of that problem than a roboticist with a computer science or electrical engineering background.
I just got back from a conference where, as usual, I had a lot of fun. It was tiring, both mentally and physically, but at the end of each day I was sure that I’d learned something new. This is the environment that makes me love doing research: being surrounded by people who are all passionate about the same issues, discussing all of the problems and solutions that we’ve found. At its best, a conference is an in-depth conversation with people who know your research. At its worst, though, a conference can make you feel that you are utterly unprepared; that everyone around you knows more than you ever will; that you’ve just been wasting your time so far, while everyone else has been sprinting ahead.