The Future Of Robots

WHAT SORT OF FUTURE AWAITS US IN A WORLD WHERE EVERYTHING IS RAPIDLY CHANGING?

Technology has been posing riddles about the future for more than half a century now. Things like flying cars, holographic television, electronic gadgets by the thousands, and interfaces with the human body.

While some remain in the realm of fantasy, others are soon going to morph from fiction to fact and look set to become reality in the imminent future. When it comes to the future, however, one of the most appealing futuristic myths is that of robots.

Before we take up the present and future of robots, we need to clarify a few concepts. The perception that robots are beginning to have feelings and are slowly taking the place of humans is science fiction insofar as the robots of today and tomorrow are always and only going to be devices and never more than that.

The most ideal among them may be useful for entertainment and services, but even this doesn’t mean that robots will ever be more than a tool, a machine.

There have been many kinds of robots up to now. We are familiar with several of them, from the simplest, like a washing machine, to complex robot prototypes in the form of humans. Industrial robots that can function autonomously and the robots used in surgical operations are some that have been used up to now.

According to the United Nations Economic Council, if there’s a sector that is going to develop on a scale comparable to that of the automobile market of the 20th century, it’s robot manufacturing.

Here at Aldebaran, we design robots and come together continuously with all the actors in the sector. Over the last five years, we have started to develop a rather clear vision of how the robot sector for personal use is going to shape up in the near future.

As Bill Gates also pointed out in an article he wrote for the Scientific American in June 2007, the real question is not whether home use of personal robots is going to catch on or not, but how many robots are going to be used in the home!

The answer is probably ‘a lot’. They are going to be designed as humanoids and some will perform domestic activities while others will execute more general automated tasks. The most effective way of using robots in daily life appears to be by designing them as humanoids.

Robots to be used in entertainment, as friends, and to welcome guests and visitors are going to be designed in human form. Psychologically speaking, mankind is ready now to respond positively to such humanoids and start communicating with them.

The first communication between humans and robots will be through recreational activities. This phase is inevitable in order that the humanoid robots that are beginning to be used in homes and factories today are accepted and not perceived as a threat in any way.

We are going to appreciate this more clearly in the near future when dream becomes reality and we start being friends with humanoid robots that are equipped with advanced interactive abilities. In the case of Nao, for example, we are predicting that this will be the first purpose for which it is used.

Later on, we are going to target mass use and develop helpful robots that will assist elderly and dependent people, be fun playmates for sick children, and assist in studying and minding autistic children and accompanying them as they do their exercises.

We also believe that robots like Nao are going to play a role in giving computer games a new form. Recent innovations are taking us in the direction of techniques that will enable us to use our bodies to control the game. Besides being a virtual avatar, robots at the same time has an extremely realistic appearance as a friend who will accompany us in the virtual world of an interacitve game. 

Looking ahead, we can predict that within twenty years the machine called the robot is going to be helpful in producing solutions to the demographic problems being faced now in the developed countries of Europe and Asia, whose elderly population is increasing as growth of young population slows down. In order for all this to become reality, and very soon, the first obstacle that needs to be overcome is the technical hardware.

The development of robots today is still very complex, even from the physical angle, and requires a rigorous process of innovation and research-and-development. Software production on the other hand is moving along nicely. The experts who develop the visual and interactive software and also write programming software could be called the pioneers in this field. Inevitably, solving the problems of robot development lies though making these new technological developments accessible to the masses.

As in the case of real-time informatics, the best applications arise from a cooperation based on the interaction of experts and programmers with actual users. Although creating a synthetic life form may seem for now like a crazy idea that exceeds the capacity of Aldebaran Robotics, I would like to conclude by inviting all the world’s software programmers, even the hackers, as well as all scientists interested in the subject to join with us in this adventure, which is just at the beginning.