(Graphic illustration by Natasha Khan/PublicSource)
When Randy Sargent saw “Stars Wars” as a 10-year-old, he didn’t come home swinging broomsticks around the garage and flying imaginary X-Wings under the covers. He wanted to make robots like C-3PO and R2-D2.
And like the cheery, sassy sidekicks of Luke and Leia, Sargent — now a senior systems scientist at Carnegie Mellon University — wanted his robots to work alongside humans, to help them. He thought he got that chance in the late 1990s, when he helped build an automated blueberry-sorting machine for a Washington farm, which blew green, unripe berries away from the ready-to-eat blue ones.
Sargent visited Washington to test the system, only to find out that the farm’s owner wanted to try it out next to the migrant workers who picked the blueberries every season. Sargent was confused: The workers were socializing and enjoying the work — turns out blueberry-sorting wasn’t as dull as he thought.