When robot makers gather
Raytheon employees celebrate innovation at Bring Your Robot to Work Day
Drones buzzed above, robotic insects skittered afoot and machines programmed with AI carried out complicated tasks, yet some of the most interesting inventions at Raytheon’s "Bring Your Robot to Work Day" were the practical, everyday ones.
Nearly 150 employees in Aurora, Colorado, attended the event. The idea: to get employees talking about technology they use in their hobbies to inspire ideas for the company's products and services.
“Innovation is the process of creating good ideas and putting them into practice to grow your business ahead of the competition,” said Sarah Law, an engineer who organized the event. “It's quite a journey - but it always starts with new thinking and new ideas.”
Dr. Rodney Price and his industrial robot were one of the attractions that drew a crowd. Such robots are needed to achieve the level of precision required for defense and other industrial manufacturing.
Price’s robotic arms are designed to help customers be more autonomous and efficient, in any environment including space. Multiple arms move from one configuration to another – the faster the better – without hitting each other.
“As a physicist, you learn several different ways to solve mechanical problems. I’m using an approach based on variational calculus to calculate nearly optimal trajectories in which all arms move simultaneously to the target configuration,” said Price.
Raytheon is a hotbed of innovation, with inventions that span nearly every field of science and technology, from computer chips that harness quantum physics to work on a full-scale redesign of the Internet.
The emphasis on innovation is institutional. At Raytheon's Space and Airborne Systems business, engineers with ideas can contact the Office of Innovation. At Raytheon Missile Systems, engineers specialize in building quick prototypes at the company's "Bike Shop" – named after the Wright Brothers' bicycle shop.
“That's where we are today with innovation," said Law. "If they have a hobby on the side, it's a way to bring that skill to work. By working together, everyone can think broader, can share further and can achieve amazing things."
At the robotics day event, crowds also gathered to see robotic insects that learn to move thanks to artificial intelligence.
“These are self-evolving, artificial life forms with a neural infrastructure similar to an octopus’ brain structure,” said James Crowder, a Raytheon engineer and AI expert. “My insects must learn how to walk, read their sensors – visible light, infrared light, touch, and sound – and use these to meet their overall goals/objectives.”
Crowder’s invention could have applications for autonomous air, ground, or underwater vehicles, and aligns with the Department of Defense’s “Third Offset” strategy, a strategy to give the United States military technological advantages that would deter enemies from attacking.
“We organized Bring Your Robot to Work Day because there are people here that are always thinking of new innovative ways to help our customers,” Law said. “We are creating opportunities where we can get people excited, and let them know that we’re doing cool things to advance future Raytheon capabilities.”