- Materials & Industrial Technology
Robots and the Future
Robots in the Future
There is an increasing fascination with robots that goes anywhere from the mundane of robots that clean the floors, to extremists who are implanting chips in themselves and calling themselves cyborgs.
Robots are more prevalent than ever, and the practical uses are growing in a big way. For the most part South Korea and the Japanese have taken the lead in robotics, at least in the marketing an notoriety side of it, as they create robots that have some similarities to human expression in order to create interest in order to get research money.
In reality, it's debatable whether anyone really has the robotics lead right now, other than who's positioning themselves the best to garner research money. For example, there are a ton of industrial robots in the U.S., which have been used for years for assembly, and are of course called robotic arms. That doesn't get much attention because it doesn't have the sexy side of mimicking humans included.
And who gets excited about robotic lawn mowers or carpet and floor cleaners? Not too many people do. But when you add the human element to it, which in reality is the least valuable, it generates interest and funding, and offers the illusion that there are great strides being made in robotics.
So for better or worse, we're going to see a lot more of this in the future, even though human acting robots really have no practical use. Some say they'd be good for companions to the elderly, but when you think of that it's really nonsense. You would have to have someone not able to distinguish between a human and a robot for that to happen, which means they'd be past the ability to distinguish between the two, so how does that help?
In the case of these types of robots, it really is all a marketing ploy, and nothing more.
Now as far as robots that are made to do mundane tasks in hospitals that walk upright, that does have a practical side, and it makes sense because of the hallways and tasks needed to be done.
The difference is they're not there to fool someone, they're actually there for a task, and standing upright coincides with that task.
What about artificial intelligence?
The words used to describe it says it all: it's artificial. Now a lot of scientists and researchers attempt to describe their little creations as self-determining, and able to make decisions without the aid of humans, but that in reality is a lie.
All robots are are computers. They have a hard drive and software which guides their actions. So when you add software that mimics human decision-making, they're not making decisions, they're simply a software program made to simulate decision making.
Whatever these so-called artificial intelligences are doing, it's not on their own, but simply a software program written by humans running in the background - nothing more.
The point in the beginning of this robot article is to say that while it's being touted that Japan and South Korea are way ahead of the U.S. and other countries in robotics, the reality is they're working on developing robot types that have very little - if any - practical use, while the U.S. and others actually have designed robots that have a function.
Industrial Assembly Robots
Global Robotics Market
The global robotics market, according to recent reports, has been estimated at about $17.3 billion and should grow at a projected rate of about 4 percent a year, to reach about 21.4 billion by 2014.
At this time industrial robots are still the prime market, accounting for $11.5 billion of the $17.3 billion robotics market.
Estimates are domestic and professional service robots demand will turn that around by 2014 and account for about 70 percent market share of all robots. Much of that is predicated upon using robots to serve an increasingly aging population.
As with much technology, much of the initial use is in military applications, and it's no different with robots. Military robots are remote-controlled machines used to carry out a wide variety of missions.
They can be used in the air, water and land, and in all of those situations are connected in one way or the other primarily with surveillance.
Even so, there are some available that once the surveillance brings back the needed information, can then be used to launch combat strikes on their opponents, whether from the air or the ground.
One unique concept that has been being worked on for a while by researchers is the Darpa or Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is being developed in hopes of being able to carry troop supplies over difficult terrain.
These military robots have four legs and have to be taught how to walk, which isn't an easy task to accomplish.
Medical robots are fascinating to me, and have a tremendous upside and value to human beings and the medical profession.
Some of the types that are very impressive are those that can aid doctors in surgery. These medical robots can either perform microsurgery, or be used for an image guided biopsy.
What's great about these robots is they aid doctors in performing highly complex surgery, which increase the chances of success and ease the recovery of patients.
Robots as Patients
In some places in the world, the training of medical students is increasingly done through using robotic patients, which are realistic in having breathing systems installed, synthetic blood, and mechanical organs.
The computer software included with these robot patients allows any number of illnesses to be simulated and treated.
Mexican universities have been using these robotic patients for training for some time now, among others.
One interesting aspect about underwater robots, is they've been developed and deployed largely for non-military purposes, which is unusual in general, with the waters being such a part of military strategy.
Much of the current underwater robots are used to explore the oceans and primarily in offshore oil drilling missions. Another growing purpose is to gather general data from the ocean for analysis.
The U.S. Navy has liked what it sees, and wants to use the available technology for potentially dangerous missions, or missions that could only be performed by an underwater robot. They don't just want the type hooked to cables either, they want types that can be run autonomously.
The stated purpose of the Naval use of underwater robots is to protect coastal regions of the country, identify the exact locations of enemy submarines, and locate hidden mines.
Described as underwater unmanned vehicles or UUVs for short, they will aid sailors by doing work that is dangerous, dirty, and in many cases very dull. These tubular shaped robots could also be used on submarines.
Snake robots have a number of uses, and for the most part they're connected to getting into tight places or being used in military situations where they would be hard to discover.
These contraptions are very versatile, and can not only swim, but can crawl and climb as well, among other unique skills.
For military applications, they can be used to slither up to an encampment or something similar, and take photos of what is there, while quietly leaving without anyone knowing the difference.
Another application being considered is for use in rescue operations, where the ability to enter a closed of area quickly by human beings is not possible in a disaster area, and a quick assessment of the situation by a snake robot could be sent back to its controllers.
Recent snake discovery could help snake robot research Contrary to popular belief, snakes don't move on the ground pushing off of objects as thought in the past, rather they propel themselves forward using friction created between its belly scales and the ground.
Depending on what the snakes were trying to do, they would change the grab of their belly scales in moving uphill or downhill, which would determine their speed.A report from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences described the discovery and said it could help them build and design better snake robots that could move based on these newly discovered principles.
Let's face it, when you get into talking about robots, in the end, it's just fun and cool to think about.
To that end, a seemingly endless number of robot competitions have been going on for some time now, and it starts at low grade levels and goes up to the highest university levels.
Every type, shape and size of battle bots have been created by some of the sharpest minds in the world, and in the end they're still rather clumsy and ineffective, but that doesn't take away from the fun of looking at how they're built.
I actually like to look at the designs and concepts behind those designs than the actual battles between the bots.
Either way, they're fun to watch and keeps interest in robotics in students' minds.
Self-replicating robots - Real Life Transformers?
The Transformers have been around for a long time, and their increasing popularity from the movies made about them has increased interest in robots that can transform and reassemble according to the need at the moment.
This are now called modular robots, and NASA wants these in order to use them on future missions which require multi-purpose robots to accomplish.
Some of the things these modular robots can do are phenomenal, and have lots of possibilities for future space programs. For example, it can act like a snake robot and sidewind, change its movement to the up and down of a caterpillar, change into a rolling track similar to a tank, or even climb up a rope. It's also asserted they can change into a ball shape and roll down a hill. Pretty amazing stuff!
NASA had requested a robot like this, which they pictured being able to be dropped from an airplane as 100 blocky modules into a desert area, and then build itself into a rover that could travel over a sand dune. Once that was accomplished, they wanted it to change into a machine with legs, which could then climb if it had to.
Amazingly, the final vision was to have it be able to change into a greenhouse which could then provide protection for seeds over a two-week period.
The actual self-repair or changes are done in some cases with infrared and radio communication where the modules communicate to one another concerning how they should put themselves together.
Future of Robots
Robots have quietly become a part of our everyday lives, whether watching them in movies, playing with them as toys, or developing uses for them which help in many of the challenges mankind faces.
They'll always be a fascination, but I'm not too sure about this guys that embed chips into their bodies and then call themselves cyborgs.
That's like eating grass and calling yourself a cow. Label yourself what you want, embedding something underneath your skin, no matter what the object does, doesn't change you from being human, no matter what fantasy you want to conjure up in your head.