6 TED Talks About Robotics Everyone Should Watch

6 TED Talks About Robotics Everyone Should Watch

We hear it all the time- “Robots are taking over our jobs.” Oh, you mean the 2 million unfilled manufacturing jobs that are estimated in the next 10 years? Believe it or not, we’re entering an era that, according to Deloitte and Manufacturing Institute, we’re not only losing skilled workers due to aging but having difficulty finding skilled workers because people have no desire to work in these positions.

One of the most adopted solutions to the labor crisis that is affecting all industries is to start using our power and ability to create a world where humans allow robots to help with jobs that are dangerous, undesired, or tedious. And then go beyond that. Think about what other areas robots can help with aside from manufacturing. Therapy, inaccessible or undiscovered areas, emergency-prevention, the opportunities are endless.

Robotic automation has allowed us to meet these goals and will keep inspiring all industries to go farther. We’ve compiled a list of the 6 must-see TED Talks from thought leaders in robotics and automation and what we can learn from each.

1. Meet the Robot Designed Like an Octopus Tentacle

Author: Carl Vause

Premise: Think about everything you do with your hands on a daily basis. You hold your phone, pick up your keys, grasp a water bottle. None of this possible without the complex system that makes up your body- from your nimble fingers to your brain. Robotic dexterity has now expanded into a world that was previously non-dexterous. Why is this so important? Because these advances can now automate tasks in factories and industries that are facing labor constraints, and/or where it’s dangerous for humans to work.

What we learned/future use: Soft robotic actuators are opening up an entirely new market to handle products that were before impossible to handle via robotic automation- delicate produce and eggs, bakery items like croissants and donuts, tiny injection-molded pieces, and so much more.

2. The Incredible Potential of Flexible Soft Robots

Author: Giana Gerboni

Premise: Giana Gerboni starts this off by explaining the design of standard rigid robots, and why we need to think about the opposite approach, better known as soft robots. Her approach is built on embodied intelligence, which is a trait learned from nature that provides the ability to adapt to the environment. This is a useful skill in almost every field in the world. For example, Giana works in the biomedical industry and her soft approach to the way we view and use robots in the medical field. She speaks to one of her past projects which uses soft robots in surgery as a minimally invasive solution and expands the view-space in the body.

What we learned/future use: Soft robots perform well in situations that require flexibility, adaptability, and repeatability. So it’s important to view their abilities not as an alternative to standard robots, but as an inspiration to go beyond what standard robots can normally do.

3. Why We Have an Emotional Connection to Robots

Author: Kate Darling

Premise: Have you ever seen one of those animal robots that have fallen over and you feel bad that they may be hurt? Come to realize they are not a living, breathing animal and you get confused why that made you emotional in the first place. Welcome to Kate Darling’s TED Talk. In a nutshell, it is a simple human instinct to feel connections towards almost anything, more so something that can move on its own.

What we learned/future use: Robots aren’t designed specifically to evoke a connection with humans. They are designed to perform tasks that humans don’t want to do, or take over tasks that humans simply can’t do. However, with our new approach to human-robot interaction, we may think of new ways to use robots as therapeutic means for those in nursing homes, people living with disabilities, education, and much more.

While you may not necessarily understand the reasoning behind your connection to a robot, and I’m not saying you should always have a connection towards all robots because that’s just weird, you could use it as an opportunity to explore your approach to real-life situations and open up your own ability to be empathetic to what’s around you. Maybe what this means for working professionals is that building connections with robots will allow them to adapt and adopt to robots in the workplace and this “relationship” will enable better work on your end.

4. Meet Spot the Robot Dog That Can Run Jump and Open Doors

Author: Marc Raibert

Premise: Disclaimer, this dog is not a pet. Marc Raibert at Boston Dynamics builds his robots to the following three goals: mobility, dexterity, and perception. We see that the robotic dogs, aside from being strangely cute and life-like, can perform human-like tasks such as opening doors. But the most impressive programming in the robot speaks to its ability to handle harsh environments with ease. It stays balanced when being pushed over, it can tread through 10-inch deep snow with little resistance, and it can tackle other obstacles like hills, stairs, etc.

What we learned/future use: With Marc’s three main goals in mind, one day we could be able to take these robots to areas that are inaccessible to humans and learn about the environment. We could use these robots to deliver packages or in defense. What we will continue to wonder is how safe are these robots to interact with humans? These robots are programmed to perform certain tasks, but how will they know when to stop if in a dangerous situation? What are the ramifications and how can we prevent this from happening?

5. The Artificial Muscles That Will Power Robots in the Future

Author: Christoph Keplinger


Premise: Another fantastic, yet somewhat different, example of how soft robotics makes a splash in the robotics ocean. “Actuators are for robots, what muscles are for animals.” So, building soft robots, soft actuators, and soft muscles can help adapt to changing surroundings. Bonus, he even teaches you how to replicate a similar application at home, so try it out and let us know how it worked.

What we learned/future use: While these artificial muscles are relatively new to the world, we won’t be surprised if someday prosthetics are using them as the main structure to mimic the human body and perform human tasks.

6. Why You Should Make Useless Things

Author: Simone Giertz


Premise: If you’re looking for a TED Talk with a little personality and a few good laughs, that also might confuse you after reading the title, look no further. Simone Giertz is an average young professional who went from having performance anxiety to outperforming all by eliminating her expectations towards success and simply inventing things that will fail. Her experience in reality and living with failure is truly an inspiration to those who constantly find themselves unhappy with their own work. Maybe this will guide you to see things differently.

What we learned/future use: Sometimes not knowing what the answer isn’t always a bad thing. In the world of engineers, inventors, creators, etc. it seems as though you are expected to know the answer immediately. Sometimes even expected to know the right answer immediately. By taking what Simone has proven is that taking time to explore and find your enthusiasm for useless work can create something bigger. Now, there are plenty of million-dollar robots out there that have failed terribly, but the main issue is because they aren’t solving a problem. If we learn anything from Simone, it’s to find a solution to a problem and create a machine that can solve for it, even if it may be silly and undeveloped, and not just create an utterly useless machine with no intent.