Do you think that you need super programming skills to program robots? Not so!
If you can play computer games — even simple ones — you already have what it takes to ace the robot programming game. Even if you only play popular games like Candy Crush, Clash of the Clans, or Angry Birds this can give you transferable skills for modern robot programming.
Gone are the days when programming a robot meant you needed to enroll in a long and arduous training course. Robot programming is now as simple as playing a computer game.
A great example of this is the game Minecraft and its similarities to robot palletizing.
Minecraft is one of the world’s most popular video games, with over 738 million players in 2021. By simply playing the game, players develop a whole bunch of skills that contribute directly to programming a complex robot task like palletizing.
Robot programming is hard? Only if you live in a cave
A lot of people believe that programming is extremely difficult.
This mistaken belief is basically a hangover from the past. It’s true that programming used to be unintuitive for most people. If you were born before the year 2000, your experience was that computers were still “the new thing.”
The barrier to entry for new programmers was very high. I remember buying a book about “How to Program in BASIC” as a young teen. I went through a lot of trials and difficulties just to be able to install a BASIC compiler to do the exercises in the book.
Nowadays, it’s extremely easy to learn to program.
There are now many free and paid resources for learning programming. There are copious online courses for any programming task you need to learn.
But, more than that, we human beings are much more familiar with computers and technology than we were even 10 years ago. For example, 65% of American adults play computer games and 93% of households own a smartphone.
Unless you “live in a cave” and don’t use modern technology, you are interacting with technology every day that can help you improve your robot programming skills.
How can Minecraft help to program a palletizing robot?
How do these transferable skills show up in practice?
Let’s take the example of programming a robot palletizing task. This is an extremely popular task in modern robotics and is used extensively across industries.
What is robot palletizing?
Palletizing involves stacking boxes and other items on top of each other to send them off for shipment. You need to ensure that the items are all stacked in the right way on the pallet or they could move during transit.
Programming a robot palletizing task involves forward-planning, an understanding of how to best lay objects in sequence, and advanced problem-solving skills.
What is Minecraft?
Minecraft is a video game that was first released in 2011. Since then, it has been extremely popular among children and adults alike.
Unlike in other games, there are no “levels” to pass in Minecraft and you don’t win “points” by playing the game. Instead, the purpose of the game is simply to explore the world, build interesting structures, and be creative. It has even been adopted by schools to supplement teaching.
The core mechanics of the game are built around various “blocks.” With these blocks, players can build an amazing array of complex creations. It’s a bit like the modern equivalent of playing with Legos.
The gameplay in Minecraft has strong parallels with programming a robot palletizing task. The math, geometry, and problem-solving in the game develop the same skillsets.
Photo: Mika Baumeister
Why playing games helps with the “robot programming game”
Whether you play Minecraft or any other game, you are probably developing skill sets that are useful for robot programming.
Over the past decade or so, robot programming has gotten easier and easier. With more intuitive programming interfaces — such as touch screen teach pendants, drag and drop programming, and better learning resources — the time it takes to learn robot programming has reduced significantly.
At the same time, we have all become more familiar with computer interfaces and manipulating abstract objects with them. One reason for this is that so many people play computer games than we did in the past. Whether you’re just solving the latest Wordle over your morning coffee or you spend a few hours in the evening playing Minecraft, you are developing these skills.
Playing games improves your skills in problem-solving, analytical skills, forward planning, and many other skills that are directly applicable to robot programming.
Every time you play a computer game, you are improving your skills for “the robot programming game.”
How to apply your computer game skills to robot programming
How do you apply the skills you develop when playing games to your robot programming activities?
There are at least 10 essential skills that help you to get the most from robots. This includes skills like systems thinking, active learning, and judgment.
If you want to identify a game that you could play next, look at which games contribute to those skills that you personally need to develop the most.
However, you don’t need to start playing a new game to get better at robot programming.
The quickest way to learn robot programming is just to get your hands on a robot. Try programming it for yourself. With the right robot solution, you will find that programming the robot is many times easier than you thought it would be.
For example, if your business would benefit from a palletizing robot, just jump in and get started. Convince your boss to choose an intuitive robotic solution and just get started!
What games do you play and how could they contribute to robot programming skills? Tell us in the comments below or join the discussion on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, or the DoF professional robotics community.