Advancements in Computing Power and Machine Intelligence Result in Steady Progress in Robotics

Private industry and militaries around the world depend on the continued advancement of computer power and cheaper electronics for the development of robotic systems. Every time you turn on the television or read the newspaper, it always seems as if we are reading about a new advancement in robotics, the development of a new robot or even progress into Artificial Intelligence. In fact, one of my last shows on Sci Fi Science "A.I. Uprising" touched on the possibility of a world ruled by artificial intelligence and how we are approaching the time when computers will exceed the power of the human brain.  

However, we should be careful to point out that the remarkable advances mentioned here involve robotic systems which require human guidance. They are not fully autonomous systems which can think for themselves and make decisions independently, except in a primitive way. Many of these robotic systems are remote-controlled by a human, or require continuous human supervision.

Robots that can act like humans are still a very distant dream. 

But not all robotic systems necessarily have to "think" in the way that they are portrayed in Hollywood movies like "Terminator" or "Short Circuit." Some robots are used in surgical procedures, fast-paced manufacturing systems, autonomous satellites, and remote-controlled systems. There are even even assistant robots that can help elderly people move about, remind them to take their medication and do household chores. 

Let's take a look at some of the advances that have recently made headlines in the world of robotics and machine intelligence 

Humanoid Robotics Systems & Domestic Style Robots

  • My recent BT blog entry "NASA Sending First Humanoid Robot into Space" talks about NASA's recent robotics initiatives withe the development of it's Robonaut2.
  • Honda's ASIMO recently celebrated his 10th birthday. Watch a video of the 10 year evolution of ASIMO.
  • Healthcare-Robotics at the Georgia Institute of Technology has unveiled a prototype robot, named Cody, which has demonstrated the capacity to autonomously give a bedridden patient a sponge bath.
  • DARPA has developed a robotic arm with a new type of gripping device (hand) which is comprised of a balloon and coffee grounds allowing it to create a perfect hold. As you can see from the video, the newly designed grip can pick up anything from as small as a light emitting diode to something as large as a car suspension. Simple, yet very effective.
  • The Japan Experience Robotics Show unveiled a humanoid robot named Miim who can sing, dance, act and even model.
  • The Fastest Humanoid Robot is currently being developed at Bharat University in India. It will be able to talk, walk and attend to basic chores.
  • Advancements in Military Robotics Systems

  • Time Magazine has named the Raytheon XOS 2 Exoskeleton a "Best Invention of 2010." One of the main goals of the wearable robotics suit is to aide with the many logistical challenges for soldiers in and out of the theater of battle.
  • DARPA recently awarded Carnegie Mellon University with nearly a $1 Million Dollar, 17-month contract to develop a ground vehicle with the ability to fly soldiers without the need of having to undergo specialized pilot training. There aren't many details available to the general public on this particular project, but you can certainly read a variety of news articles here.
  • The Marine Corps is developing a series of driverless robotic trucks that can travel long distances at high speeds. The long-term goal is to basically develop a "kit" which can be attached to any of the existing vehicles in the field, with an estimated cost of around $20k per kit.
  • Lockheed Martin is currently developing six armed prototype six-wheel vehicles starting sometime in 2011 which will eventually be armed with both machine guns and Javelin missiles that are remotely operated by soldiers in the field.
  • The continued advancement of computer power will allow for faster, more intelligent and stronger robotic systems. In addition to Moore's law eventually coming to a halt, prices will continue to drop and hardware will continue to leap forward. Billions of dollars have been spent into the world of robotics and there is no doubt that billions more will be spent over the next couple of decades.

    In addition, major strides have been made in the area of robotic vision; being able to recognize faces and remember them. The tumbling cost of camera, optics and sensing chips coupled with increased processing power is going to make for some interesting developments. As these advancements continue to take place, larger growth spurts will span into the domestic markets including smart-toys and remote controlled devices. Robotic systems essentially already play a major role in our lives including ATM's, copy machines that collate, fold, staple and organize all of your documents with the push of a button and even the all popular robotic vacuum cleaner named Roomba. These types of devices have of course have been around for years but now imagine the impact that the increasing computing power, machine intelligence, vision and control systems will do to this market in, say, the next 20 years.

    (Image credits: Frank Steiner - software: 3DS Max)

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