Friday, January 6, 2012

The Ten Coolest Advances in Robotics

We've seen the fields of robotics and artificial intelligence come a long way from the early days of computing.  I thought I'd make a list of the top coolest things we've seen in those areas.  So, without further ado:

10. Applications to scenarios inhospitable to humans.

This is a twin of the Mars rover "Curiosity", designed to traverse the as yet inaccessible terrain of Mars.  This type of robotic development allows us to expand our reach further out into the universe in scientific exploration and the search for sentient life.  This isn't just for outer space though, as robotics are being designed for earth-based applications, such as fighting fires or defusing bombs.

9. Advanced bionics.

This is but one example of what bionics have contributed to the world of medicine.  The artificial limb here is very life-like in its abilities and motions, allowing the user almost the complete abilities of a real limb.  In another few years, we could see this taken to such a level, it might be impossible to distinguish between a bionic limb and a real one.

8. Mobility assistance to humans.

This technology is called a hybrid assistive limb (HAL) suit, and is designed to help people who are injured or weak get around easier.  The suit also increases the strength of the user, allowing a person to carry heavier objects than they normally could.  It also has sensors linked via the skin to the user's brain, allowing it to help users move in the way they are thinking.  Anyone want Superman capabilities?

7. Advanced robotic mobility

This is BigDog, created to assist the U.S. Army with field operations.  The mobility and agility on this thing is incredible.  It recovers well after being kicked or slipping on ice, it can slug through or over many types of uneven terrain, and likely will be able to carry large weights at a reasonably fast speed.  As of this video, it was able to run at 5 mph.  And it looks pretty badass as well.  Similar hominoid robots are being developed as well.  Sorry for the nightmares, folks.

6. Extrinsic stimuli-based abilities.

Similar to the BigDog example above, this robot is able to respond and adjust its balance based on extrinsic stimuli.  It's not hard to imagine a scenario where this technology is used in all manner of gyroscopic technology in the future.

5. Neurologically-based control systems.

This robot demonstrates the ability to not only learn from sensory input and provide that information to its other moving parts, but is also tremendously faster than an external computer-controlled counterpart.  Much like a living being can respond to terrain and not step in a known hazard the second time, this robot can too.

4. Response to touch.

Here we have a robot that not only responds to touch, but responds in a very human-like way.  Yes, we're not quite out of the creepy realm of the "Uncanny Valley", but we're close.

3. Deductive reasoning and learning.

This robot demonstrates actual reasoning abilities, along with simple rote memorization.  It's relatively easy to program a robot to learn factual information, but quite another to insert reasoning into the equation.  Reason is one of the first steps toward becoming a being of higher intelligence.

2. Mimicking humanity.

Whether this prospect terrorizes you or fascinates you, we're well on our way to creating a robot virtually indistinguishable from a human being.  A comparison of cutting edge robotics now with that of ten years ago allows the speculation of this happening within the next decade or so.

1. Human-like interaction.

Robotic speech is slowly being replaced by more human-like speech, and interaction that more closely resembles that of real people.  Genuine spontaneous human-like reaction is probably the last barrier to cross, but we're getting there.

Some of these creations are godsends.  Some could probably induce nightmares, or evoke all manner of twisted ideas.  Regardless, they're all just the tip of the iceberg with robotic engineering, and point to incredible possibilities in the future.  I say within ten to twenty years, you won't be able to tell man from machine.

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