Robots are on the march. Already, 1.5 million Roomba vacuum-cleaning bots are crawling the globe, and autonomous planetary rovers are working overtime on Mars. But this is only the start of what engineers are hoping to achieve.
The goal is to build robots that can be let loose in our world, where they will learn to interact with humans in a messy and unpredictable environment, not just in the lab. These robots need to be able to get around in the same places we do, manipulate objects in their surroundings and communicate with others around them. In short, they need to be more like us.
But as helpmates, huge leaps in computer power and advances in control software, sensors and actuators are allowing machines to shed their clunky image and gain impressively human-like abilities. The new breed of bots may not look as slick as Toyota’s trumpeter, but by digging deep into the fundamentals of locomotion, speech and dexterity, their creators have come up with designs that will put today’s robots in the shade.
Over the three features listed above, New Scientist lifts the lid on the most stunning advances in humanoid bots. Researchers are poised to pull together developments in three key fields – walking, talking and manipulation – to produce a new generation of human-like machines. And when artificial intelligence catches up, they will not only be able to clean the house, do the dishes and take out the garbage, but also to play with children, help care for the elderly and even explore the farthest reaches of space and perform repairs or search-and-rescue missions in hazardous sites on Earth.
Also see my previous post: Robots Mainstream By 2006, 2007?.