IEEE spring conference gets the latest on robots, EVs

SOUTHFIELD–The future of robotics and the future of electric vehicles was on full display Tuesday night at the spring conference of the Southeastern Michigan Section of IEEE, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Kicking off the presentations was Tarek M. Sobh, president of Lawrence Technological University, which hosted the event at its Southfield campus.

Sobh took attendees back to the origin of the term “robot” — created by Czech playwright, novelist and journalist Karel Čapek, in his 1920 play R.U.R., an acronym for Rossum’s Universal Robots — and its popularization in science fiction like Isaac Asimov’s 1950 collection of short stories about them, “I, Robot.”

Robots began to appear in manufacturing settings not long after that, and today perform many rote, repetitive and dangerous tasks on the factory floor. They also serve as prosthetics and perform precise surgeries.

Sobh predicted that “within the next 10 to 20 years, the whole concept of manual labor is going to 100 percent disappear… there is absolutely no reason why a building like the one we are in could not be built by robots in autonomous, moving platforms, using 3D printing. Service within restaurants and hotels, robots on moving platforms are capable of performing these tasks in a more comprehensive, precise, and efficient manner.” Sobh also said robotic technologies in autonomous vehicles will make auto travel “100 times safer.”

And rather than worrying about lost jobs, Sobh said a robotics revolution would “put people in a position to have more interesting and safer jobs, working with these robots.”

Next up, Kelsey Peterson, electrification business development manager at DTE Energy, talked about how the Detroit-based utility holding company is getting the grid ready for mass adoption of electric vehicles. “There are 31,000 EVs on the road now in Southeast Michigan, and that could be 150,000 by 2030,” she said, which will place increased demands on the grid. But, she said, “we have been through this before,” with the increase in energy demand sparked by mass adoption of air conditioning. “If we built the grid to serve the hottest day of summer, those of us who live in Michigan know there are not many of those days, and that gives us quite a bit of capacity in the system to handle EVs, if it’s done efficiently.”

Peterson said that charging EVs at home at night reduces the cost of their operation to the gasoline equivalent of $1 a gallon, and that EVs result in 60 percent less emissions than gasoline-powered cars even with the current mix of power generations, which is still heavily reliant on fossil fuels. And, she said, DTE is constantly adding more renewables, which will make EVs even greener. She said people seeking more details should visit

The event’s final speaker, Santhose Jogi, vice president of software engineering at Our Next Energy, provided an introduction to the Novi-based battery developer, which is currently building a huge battery factory in Van Buren Township.

Jogi said ONE’s batteries installed in a Tesla EV produced a range of over 750 miles–in a Michigan winter. And their batteries’ technology, called lithium iron phosphate or LFP, relies less on heavy metals sourced from other nations.

He said ONE’s name “comes from the idea that energy does not belong to anyone. It has to be democratic. It has to be available in all areas of the world, including those areas where it is not now available. That’s all part of our mission.” ONE’s current emphasis is doubling the range of EVs on a single charge.


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