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Should Robots Resemble Us Humans?

Robotics – A Glimpse of Where We Are Today

I don’t know about how you feel about the current state of robotics but I was hugely surprised when I started exploring the state of art.

AI is a field which has never lived up to its promise – real or perceived. For example if you look at Arthur Clarke’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” (novel & movie) written in 1968 you will realize that it is way … way off the mark.

But, just maybe, things might change in next 10 years – and you may actually own your personal robot!

Let me present some of the interesting stuff that is available today! Let us start with…

Asimo – The Humanoid Robot from Honda

It can walk … talk … run … hop on one leg … climb up and come down the stairs … open a bottle … pour the liquid … serve it … guide people to a room. (see this)

When asked it can even tell its own height (4 ft 3 in) and weight (54 kg)!

Check out these videos on YouTube — they are quiet amazing!

Are there other similar Robots?

Probably Asimo is the most advanced robot but here are 3 more:

  1. HPR-4 – A female humanoid robot, created by the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology – a Japanese research facility.
  2. NAO – An autonomous, programmable humanoid robot developed by Aldebaran Robotics, a French startup company.
  3. Partner Robots – From Toyota which among other things can play violin.

Check out these videos in YouTube:

    Not all Robots are Humanoid

    As you have seen so far, all the robots resembled humans. They have two hands, two legs and a head. They are called humanoid robots.

    But robots come in all shapes and sizes. Check out these videos on YouTube.

  1. There are some which walk on 4 legs and resemble a dog – created by the University of Southern California
  2. Ballbot – which balances on a ball – created by Swiss federal institute of technology in Zurich
  3. You even have a flying robot – created by GRASP Laboratory – University Of Pennsylvania

There are Robots which augments us

Whatever we have seen so far are autonomous robots. Not all robots are like that. Some of them augments our strength or cover our weakness.

For example you have the Tele-presence robot (from Anybots) which is an extension of video concerning. This robot can move around in 2 wheels, can see, hear and speak. You can control it from you PC sitting at a remote location. You can have a tele-presence in a meeting or have an informal chat with a colleague.

You also have robotic support (Tek RMD) that replaces wheel chair and brings freedom to paraplegics.

For the military you have HULC the hydraulic-powered anthropomorphic exoskeleton (Lockheed Martin) which enhances the strength of a soldier.

From mundane to scary

Some robots are for mundane use like the robot vacuum cleaner (Roomba) which not only cleans the room by itself but also goes back to the charging station and charges itself.

While there are scary implication of what can happen when robots are deployed for warfare. Do listen to the TED talk – Military robots and the future of war by P.W. Singer a political scientist.

Will I ever have my personal robot?

Let us do some back of the envelop extrapolation.

Let us assume that Moore’s law will hold good for robotics also that is the robot power will double every 2 years. Alternately, let us assume that every 2 years price becomes half. If Asimo was available in the market it would have costed around half a million dollar.

Based on these let me hazard some prediction:

  1. By 2020 you can expect the price to come down to about US$ 30,000 – around the same level of a high end car. Therefore, in about 10 years’ time there is a possibility that you might have your personal robot! You would be debating if you should buy a car or a robot.
  2. Such robot will obviously be connected to some cloud service and part of the computation would be done in the cloud. The robot will know more about your behavior and every marketer would want that data.

The social impact may be more than what we can imagine today. The internet revolution may look very mild.

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More Stories By Udayan Banerjee

Udayan Banerjee is CTO at NIIT Technologies Ltd, an IT industry veteran with more than 30 years' experience. He blogs at http://setandbma.wordpress.com.
The blog focuses on emerging technologies like cloud computing, mobile computing, social media aka web 2.0 etc. It also contains stuff about agile methodology and trends in architecture. It is a world view seen through the lens of a software service provider based out of Bangalore and serving clients across the world. The focus is mostly on...

  • Keep the hype out and project a realistic picture
  • Uncover trends not very apparent
  • Draw conclusion from real life experience
  • Point out fallacy & discrepancy when I see them
  • Talk about trends which I find interesting

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