To many of us, service robots often mean robots that assist the elderly, or help with the rehabilitation of medical patients. But the range of services that robots can perform is extremely broad. Some are involved in agricultural tasks that are either dangerous or rough on humans, such as weed-pulling and harvesting crops. Others collect trash and garbage, or work in recycling to sort waste from usable, reclaimable materials.
In security and law enforcement, there are simple robots that autonomously "walk" a beat looking for sensor readings that raise an alarm, as well as telepresence robots that can give disabled police or veterans jobs as remote patrol officers. Other robots, shaped like fish, swim in schools to detect polluting chemicals in seawater, and one robot is being developed to go into orbit as a combined mobile gas station and spacecraft mechanic.
Click on the photo below to check them out.
Robotic fish that swim in schools and cooperate using artificial intelligence to detect and identify pollution in seawater have been created by SHOAL, an EU-funded group of researchers led by BMT Group. The goal is to cut the time required to detect pollution in ports and other aquatic areas from weeks to seconds, using the robotic fishes' chemical sensors for onsite analysis. The robots can avoid obstacles, determine where to look for pollution using mapping, locate its source, maintain a maximum communication distance from the rest of the school, send data underwater back to a base station, and return to it for recharging. (Source: BMT Group)
The gardening bot is the only silly one in the group. Isn't home gardening like a hobby or relaxing task? Otherwise, all those bots are useful. Much of the world around us, our electronics, etc are affected by robots.
I used to design and fabricate small steel bridges. What cut the bridge components? Industrial robots.
I like how robotics is being pushed early in the education system. A friend of mine hosts a robotics club for neighborhood kids. They have competed nationally, and still do so. Some of the kids from the group moved on to engineering fields in college. So, perhaps the next big bot revolution will come from a kid like this. We all need a robot personal assistant, am I right?
That type of problem is what's being addressed in work done by the University of Aberdeen, which we wrote about inHumans, Do You Speak !~+V•&T1F0()? http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1386&doc_id=251721 so humans and robots can communicate at a distance about specific tasks the robot is engaged in, and change plans or tactics as necessary.
I totally understand, TJ. So if the underlying programming and technology is good, there won't be a problem and in fact, in some cases, robots know best. It's when the code under the covers is faulty that there could be issues with the behavior of these more sophisticated robots. Let's hope that all those working behind the scenes know what they're doing! (Well, of course they do, or we wouldn't have such clever robots.)
Elizabeth, I'm not at all worried about a Terminator takeover. It's the base programming that we should worry about.
Modern airliners are fly-by-wire. Pilots give control inputs which tell the flight computers what the pilot wishes to do. The flight computers interpret that input and adjust the planes control surfaces, engines, etc. to best meet these wishes.
Flight computers today can override or discard a pilot's inputs if they're outside of acceptable range. Effectively, a computer engineer designing the control laws has overriden the pilot. Granted with the best of intentions, but it still means a set of rules set down by someone not in immediate control has more say in what happens than the pilot.
There was a Paris airshow crash back in the 90's I think it was, that can be attributed to the pilot and the flight computer having a difference of opinion. The aircraft made a low, slow flyby of the show with flaps down, gear down. The plane kept sinking slowly while the pilot was pulling back (go up!). The plane thought the pilot wanted to land (flaps down, gear down), and so igored the excessive pull-up input by the pilot.
Something similar happened to one of the YF-22 prototypes (also in the 90s). The pilot was in a similar situation (low, slow, flaps down, gear down), and decided to abort his landing. He went through full power into afterburner, and that confused the flight computer. Flaps down, gear down, but MAX throttle. Eventually, the plane crashed (after the landing gear retracted, but no injuries) because the plane got into PIO Pilot-Induced-Oscillations.
That's really funny, TJ! In reading and writing about all these robots and not having seen any of them up close and personally (yet), I have to say it does creep me out sometimes to think of how sophisticated these machines are becoming. While I appreciate the tasks they can accomplish, there is that whole "Terminator" worry lurking in the background. At what point do robots become smarter than us? (Hopefully never, of course, but the artificial intelligence being created today is getting pretty darned smart!)
This is terrific stuff Ann. But put yourself in the soldier's position for a moment, trapped under heavy debris, when the Golum Krang robot rolls out of the smoke carrying a big-ass pipe in its hands, with a mechanical voice coming from its grill "I am Golem Krang. I am here to help you". Talk about SF movies in real life.
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