Ever since humanity has been conjuring up ideas centred on the creation of shiny mechanical humanoids (think: Metropolis), there’s been just as many doom and gloom visions associated with potential designs. Does the current state of Robotic tech actually reinforce these polarised views of robot development, or can we look forward to a future filled with mind-bogglingly helpful mechanical humanoids, rather than death bots running rampant through our android-controlled streets?
What the Heck Are Robots Anyway They and Where Did They Come From?
The word “Robot” comes from the Czech word “robota” which translates to “labor” in English — an apt term for machines designed as energy-saving, or otherwise beneficial, devices. Robot development can be divided into two broad categories: those that were created specifically with the intention of assisting or entertaining us (Helper Bots) and those that seem specially designed to harm us (Crush-Kill-Destroy Robots, or Military Bots for short). Helper Bots had as their genesis such 1950’s gems as Unimate, an assembly-line robot devoted to all things industrial (labour-saving, indeed). On the other hand, military robots sprang from more sinister beginnings in World War II with automated machines such as tracking mines. Robots have developed in leaps and bounds since these early days, and the field of Robotics continues to forge ahead at an astounding pace.
The Current State of Robotics:
Some of the more helpful variety of robots display remarkable skill sets designed to make life easier for a range of people, especially the disabled. Hondas ASIMO is one such example of a humanoid-based autonomous robot designed to provide its owners with a range of functions, including assisting persons confined to wheelchairs, or the aged in dealing with mobility issues. It can even: “…turn on a light switch, open doors, carry objects and push carts” with pressure controlled force-sensor hands designed to adapt to specific requirements. Another humanoid bot that strives to please is the RoboThespian: “…a fully programmable state-of-the-art humanoid robot. It’s fully interactive, multi-lingual and can communicate and entertain in a way that few people have experienced before”. Even our friendly-neighbourhood domestic grade vacuum cleaner robot, such as the Roomba or Neato, all strive to make our lives more time efficient and act to create a more pleasant living conditions for lazy busy individuals.
What about the militaristic side of current robot advancement? Boston Dynamic’s Pack Robots commissioned by DARPA are the most practical of this incarnation. These robots include such samples as LittleDog, a terrain-navigating bot that looks like a decapitated, skinless, four-legged chicken. This is not to be outdone by its larger, uglier cousin, BigDog. BigDog has been specifically designed to handle the rigors of extreme military terrain, or terrain that is considered otherwise unmanageable, with articulated limbs that successfully mimic animal motion. The third robot in Boston Dynamic’s arsenal is the questionably-named Cheeta, a horrifically fast running prototype bot with sharp bladed legs that make it look like it’s perpetually running backwards. Understandably, the Cheeta is funded by DARPA’s “Maximum Mobility and Manipulation Program.”
Potential Robot Futures
So the future seems chocked with endless robotic possibilities, such as cute specimens like Robothespians or ASIMOs becoming truly “aware” and autonomous through integration with Artificial Intelligence or Augmented Technologies. For beings with infinite life spans, the possibilities are truly endless.