I have to chuckle a bit every time someone asks me "Where are the robots we were promised?" Unlike the personal jetpacks that were also promised, robots are already here, all around us, if we take the time to look. They are embedded in the design of our refridgerators, washing machines, cars, trains, airplanes, and numerous other devices that make modern life possible while being almost invisible.
Of course we can debate over the definition of a 'robot', whether or not it should be limited to only being used to describe a humanoid or quasi-clone of humans. Frankly, I don't find that debate of much practical use nor interest. Today's automobiles don't share much of their physical form with the horseless carriages that they replaced.
In a similar fashion, I don't expect that the robots of the future will take on humanoid form, unless there is some unique advantage to be gained. Why should they? Only to make their human owners feel more at ease and to avoid the Uncanny Valley effect? Perhaps, but younger generations that have grown up with robots all around them will be less and less likely to feel anything strange or fearful.
In the meantime, robots, and our growing dependency on them to survive, will continue to proliferate with wild abandon.
Keep your eyes open...
Related links: Robot show（ロボットショーⅡ） - YouTube
Moore's Law, especially as it applies to huge amounts of processing power being packed into relatively cheap electronic devices like smart phones and digital cameras, has opened up new horizons. It wasn't very long ago when high frame rate video capture required special equipment at premium prices. That meant that only research labs or big companies could afford those analysis tools.
Now days affordable consumer level digital cameras incorporate the same functionality. While you still can't achieve ultra-fast frame rates, it is easy to record at 240 fps or higher.
YouTube video by Nago0805
For example, one of the major challenges for a humanoid robot hobbyist is developing good walking routines. Unfortunately the robot moves too fast for our eyes to follow its dynamics in detail. But by recording the robot movement at 240 fps, we can see exactly what's happening, and how all of the robots joints and body parts interact while walking. And, we can check a single frame, or repeat an entire sequence as many times as we like.
We have the tools, it's only a question of what we want to do with them...
I thought I was one of the first robot fanatics to sign up when Agostini Japan announced the Robi humanoid robot kit, but obviously some other people are way ahead of me. "Tubeegle" has already gotten far enough in the assembly process to try playing Rock, Paper, Scissors with Robi:
In my case, the 14th Robi issue arrived Saturday morning, so I'm a long way behind. At first my strategy was to wait until I had all of the issues, then tackle the assembly. But, after watching videos like this, and realizing that there may be a lot that can be done with a particially complete robot, I may start assembling each issue as they arrive. Anyway, that will have to wait until I get back from RoboGames.
Related links: Hui facing robin robot over there! Agostini Japan - YouTube
It's SXSW time again already, so it should come as no surprise that companies involved in the interactive space are rolling out press releases and product announcements designed to leverage the excitement of the moment.
The most exciting, and interesting announcement that we've seen so far came from Makerbot on Friday. The company's CEO, and one of the founders, Bre Pettis stepped into the limelight to let the world know that they are developing a new 3-D scanner. Actual details are kind of sparse at the moment, because the company is still in the prototyping phase. No doubt will be extensive testing, learning, and redesign over the next few months as the product develops. There is currently no indication of the price or release timing, though the company did state that they will start accepting orders this fall.
The scanner consists of a turntable on which you mount objects you wish to scan. Lasers and cameras translate that object into a digital files. Bre said the scanner will be ideal for archiving, prototyping, replicating, and digitizing prototypes, models, parts, artifacts, artwork, jewelry, and other objects.
Assuming that the pricing is reasonable, and by that I mean in line with the pricing for the company's 3-D printers, then the new scanner will be a huge success. There are free solutions out there that usually involve taking a series of photos, then having the photos analysed to re-create the dimensions for the 3-D object. However the free software available online is either difficult to use, or requires significant attention to detail.
The new scanner, on the other hand seems to be much more straightforward and has some nice features that we help make it into the final product design. For example, the turntable, which we assume will be able to rotate the subject smoothly and repeatably. it appears that the company would like to expand its offerings to include products targeted at all the key steps in the design and manufacturing/printing process.
Related links: Makerbot Announces New Scanner
Issue #9 (of about 70) arrived today, and along with the set of parts for the DeAgostini Robi humanoid robot designed by Takahashi-san, there was another larger box including the original clock shaped like Robi's head.
There is no question that rapidly advancing robot and AI technology are enabling companies to bring back work previously done overseas, especially in China. At the same time, they are eliminating the need for human involvement in the manufacturing and assembly processes, no matter where the 'manufacturing' takes place.
This excellent "Are Robots Hurting Job Growth?" segment on 60 Minutes explains the accelerating trend along with the benefits and the challenges it's creating. In the end, it may pose more of a severe problem for blue collar workers in China, India, and Asia than it will for their counterparts in 1st World nations, though no one will be able to completely escape its impact.
If I had to make one critical observation about the 60 minutes segment it would be to say that the title, "Are robots hurting job growth?", is misleading. To understand what is really taking place, and the eventual impact on individuals, governments, and societies, we need to take a much deeper, and more focused, approach. Robots, or more specifically 'robotics', is only a tool or technology.
The real 'problem', if we consider it to be a problem, is our focus on ever increasing efficiency and profitability, apparently without regard or a second thought to the impact on the quality of human life in general.