What were the breakthrough technologies for 2019? The answer depends on who you ask. Several common themes have emerged such as cobots, emerging energy source, AI, and cybersecurity breaches. Let’s consider each in more detail.
1.) Robotics – collaborative robots (or cobots)
(Image source: OpenAI and Dactyl)
Remember Dum-E (short for dummy) from the first Iron Man movie? Dum-E was a cobot that helped Tony Stark created his flying robotic suit. It was a scaled down, more human, interactive version of the traditional industrial-grade manufacturing line arm robots.
Cobots are designed to collaboratively work alongside human with a gentle touch, i.e., to not smash fingers or step on the toes of their work buddies. Doing so requires that cobots be much more aware of their location in relation to the humans, via sensing and perception technologies. To achieve this goal, one company, Veo Robotics, uses a variety of 3D sensors placed around the robot's workcell to aid in location awareness. The company’s sensors add an extra measure of safety by automatically slowing down the movement of the industrial cobots whenever a human co-worker comes close.
To help supplement actual human activity, cobots are becoming more dexterous and moving beyond merely picking components on an assembly line. Robots need greater dexterity to pick up objects that have moved even slightly beyond their programmed parameters. Cobots cannot yet grasp any object just by looking at it, but they can now learn to manipulate an object on their own.
OpenAI, a nonprofit company, recently introduced Dactyl, a dexterous robotic arm that taught itself to flip a toy building block in its fingers. Dactyl uses neural network software to learn how to grasp and turn the block within a simulated environment before the hand tries it out for real. According to the company, they’ve been able to train neural networks to solve the Rubik’s Cube Problem using reinforcement learning and Kociemba’s algorithm for picking the solution steps.