The Big Questions in Robotics

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Welcome to the website for the workshop on "The Big Questions in Robotics" which will happen as part of Robotics: Science and Systems (RSS) 2015, July 13-17, Sapienza University, Rome, Italy.

The field of Robotics is blossoming, but the future is unclear. In addition to working on technical results, there is a need for the community to get together and talk about the “Big Questions” for the field. The opportunity of discussing strategic questions are seldom available during our conferences, yet it is critical to develop a shared vision of the future, so that we can communicate that vision to the public and the other stakeholders.

This workshop is an occasion for talk about long-term vision and goals. Because of time constraints, it is important to have a discussion on a few specific questions, and that the choice of the question does not reflect the bias of the organizers. Therefore we created this website so that the community can contribute what are the important questions.


Before the workshop: community-contributed questions

This wiki serves to remove the organizers' bias from the discussion. We do have our opinions about what are the most pressing questions to discuss (and their answers as well...), but through our title of Doctors of Philosophy we feel connected to the purest Socratic tradition of self-examination. In this occasion, we would like to act more as facilitators of the discussion rather than leading the discussion. Therefore, we ask the community to also define what are the questions that we should talk about using this form.

July update: Thanks for your contributions! We have edited the submitted questions together in a coherent document. Please use this link to see and comment directly in the document: Edited list of Big Questions (Google docs)

The workshop at RSS 2015

Date: Thursday, July 16, afternoon


- 14:30 - 14:45: organizers' remarks; summary of contributions

- 14:45 - 15:25: Session 1: Constructing internal narratives: What is robotics?

- 15:25 - 16:00: Session 2: Constructing external narratives: the field, public perception, communication.

- 16:00 - 16:30: coffee break

- 16:30 - 17:15: Session 3: Those technical questions that have forever been there, but every once in a while it's good to talk about them, just to check whether other external trends have significant tipped the balance in any interesting direction compared to the past.

- 17:15 - 18:00: Session 4: Dynamically allocated at run time based on previous sessions

- 19:00: philosophical pub crawl with more animated but definitely still scholarly discussion

After the workshop

We are making plans to condense the result of the discussion into a deliverable, which might be a standalone report, or a special issue of a magazine/journal, for which we will solicit contributions. Please do volunteer for writing a short essay arguing about either side (or both) of one of the "Big Questions".

Big Questions discussed in other RSS workshops

There are other workshops at RSS that discuss broad issues in the field. See here for the list of RSS 2015 workshops.. Should we talk about questions considered in those specialized forums? These include:

  • Questions regarding the issue of under-representation of particular demographics in the field. The best forum for that topic might be the Women in Robotics workshop.

While the basic principle is always to minimize overlap among workshops, it is great to have the more specialized questions also written here.

Organizers: Andrea Censi, Emilio Frazzoli, John Leonard

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