Hung Yu Ling

Animation and robots

When I first joined the Motion Control and Character Animation Lab at UBC, I never imagined how closely related computer animation and robotics could be. Today, it feels that the only thing separating physics-based animation and robotics is sim-to-real. However, back then, I was stuck in the mindset that animation is about keyframing. And robotics is about, well, robots and handcrafted controllers.

Since then, I have introduced my research as both computer animation and robotics. That is, until recently. First, I have not worked on a physical robot since starting my graduate studies, and second, because of a photo that I came across recently. Through this picture, I had the chance to reconsider the financial model of scientific research.

In the past, I have attended many talks where the researchers motivated their work on quadrupedal robots through exploration and rescue missions. For example, in an earthquake, robot dogs can navigate through dangerous terrains and locate survivors. Unfortunately, exploration and rescue missions are not profitable. In a world where funding availability steers scientific research and military budget is more than that for disaster relief, it is perhaps not surprising that we see robot dogs tested for the military before rescue missions. It will not surprise me if robots kill more people than they save. For this reason, I no longer feel as excited about robotics as I once was.

It is not to say that one shouldn’t feel excited about robotics, nor is it a “my ambitions are holier-than-thou” argument. People will argue for and against everything and anything. We all live in a universe where meaning only exists in our imaginations. Even if we could live until the end of the universe, the universe will not exist beyond that. Entropy will win; the end is inevitable. Until then, to whoever is reading this, and my future self, work on things that make you happy. It’s the only thing you can do.