Last week I introduced three of the many robots that competed in the DARPA Robotics Challenge. Those robots came in many shapes and sizes. There were 8 tasks that the robots had to perform and those tasks pretty much determined that the robots had to be shaped like a human to do tasks like a human. That is, most had two legs, two arms on a torso with a head that had two eyes. The two eyes were more then just functional, they give the impression of friendliness. However, a robot is a machine and has no soul, or consciousness. But leave it to Hollywood (via the BBC) to come up with their version of a humanoid with feelings in their new TV series called “Humans”. What’s next, a humanoid with ‘rights’? You never know with this world we live in today.
Since the industrial revolution, people have entrusted certain task to machines and as the machines become more flexible they can automate more of our daily task and someday they will eliminate many human jobs. The area where robotics has and is revolutionizing society is in manufacturing, various services and home health care activities. Humanoid robots have been around for a while but after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, their development has accelerated with more dexterity. There are new search and rescue humanoid robots that think like we do, move like we do and if necessary will sacrifice themselves. There will be a day when the humanoid robot will assist us in mundane or dangerous daily task. There is a robot revolution going on right now and the question is, will these machines surpass humans?
One of the early and most famous humanoid robots is Asimo (Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility) developed by Honda R&D with sensors to replicate our five human senses. Japan has been the leader in worldwide humanoid robot development. After 15 years of secret trial and error development, Japan announced Asimo in 2000 with advanced intelligence to think and take action on its own. Unfortunately, it was not functional enough in the qualities that were needed as a search and assist robot for Fukushima. Asino does have those two friendly eyes (camera lens) with face recognition ability and will greet you by name but its applications are more suited for office or home services.
Asimo has eight hearing sensors and 2 sensors to see for participating in multiple conversations simultaneously. Asimo has enough artificial intelligence to decide what actions to take based on what it sees and hears. It has extremely sensitive touch with its five fingers on each hand for gripping and knows sign language too. Asimo’s balance is a work of technological art when you watch it walk, run, hop, jump and even dance. Asimo’s announcement (birthday) was in 2000 when it was finally introduced to the world. Asimo is less than 5 feet and has a synthesized voice which makes it gender neutral.
The very first robots used at Fukushima were the little track guys that the military used in Iraq and Afghanistan. There were more than 2,000 ground robots fighting alongside our flesh-and-blood forces. Groundbot warriors had one small problem: these rolling and crawling robots were pretty stupid. They were very useful in the early weeks of the Fukushima disaster while video recording the extent of damage inside the plant, but even with their one arm they were unable to execute a simple task like opening a door or turning a valve. What was needed was a rough and tumble humanoid robot, like Asimo, but with much more physical strength. The DARPA Robotics Challenge was born and the revolution began.
Watch Asimo here: http://asimo.honda.com/