One for the Wall

Best-case scenario, we make it until 2015 before the cover of this issue looks outdated.

One for the Wall

One of my favorite at-work distractions is browsing our wall of Alcalde magazines on the third floor of the Etter-Harbin Alumni Center. Standing in front of these covers induces a kind of editorial reverie, and if I’m not monitored I can easily spend more time than good sense would allow relishing the best cover lines and the various design changes from the magazine’s 100-year opera.

Covers that feature some element of technology, like the March|April 1984 cover featuring a cartoon jogging computer or the March 1960 cover heralding the arrival of “TV at UT,” are often my favorites. Looking back, I can imagine the excitement the editors felt when those issues went to the presses, and their sense of accomplishment at having documented some latest triumph of human innovation. But, like all covers, they change with time. Walk by that wall enough, and the latest cover begins to transform from cutting-edge to humdrum, then to dated, charming, and finally quaint. With magazines, time is an occupational hazard.

Robots aren’t new, of course. They long ago entrenched themselves into the fabric of our everyday lives, particularly in manufacturing, and Hollywood has spent billions envisioning a future where robots are everywhere—for good and for evil. But with this issue, we have aimed to show you how a robotic future is coming to fruition in the classrooms and laboratories of the Forty Acres. To quote my colleague Andrew Roush, surely we can do better than the Roomba. In fact, the five robots we are featuring will lead to much more consequential outcomes than vacuumed living-room floors: advanced prosthetics, gesture and facial recognition, the ability to handle and dispose of dangerous materials, and even to work alongside astronauts in space.

Then, of course, there’s soccer. Turns out our beloved alma mater is the Manchester United of the competitive world of robot soccer. We won two divisions in 2012 at the world soccer-robot championships in Mexico City, defending our title from the previous year. While robot soccer might not appear as weighty a line of academic research as the others, the technical know-how gained by programming robots to sense the world robustly, make decisions, and execute actions has countless applications beyond sports.

As quickly as technology now changes, we recognize that a robot cover faces special danger of looking out of date even more quickly than others. That’s fine. What’s more important and exciting is knowing that UT-Austin researchers and students are pushing the boundaries of technology. This cover might be old by 2015, but there will be something else for us to feature by then. And it will only make our wall of covers that much more interesting.

Happy reading,

Tim Taliaferro

Photo by Anna Donlan.


No comments

Be the first one to leave a comment.

Post a Comment