Part 2 Plague of Locusts
Thematically similar to the Swiss Family Robinson story, Lost in Space, where a small interstellar party is marooned in another part of the Milky Way, aired from 1965 to 1968. A cult following developed and continues today, due in part to the low-budget campiness of the series, and perhaps somewhat to the quirky dialog from Dr Zachary Smith, played by the seasoned stage and screen thespian Jonathan Harris.
Limited prop budgets probably dictated that Robot roll along on a rigid leg-like column and base. But it all seemed very believable, as far as a year 2525 scenario goes.
Similar budget challenges faced designers, developers, and engineers in the 1980s and 1990s building robot prototypes for industrial and military purposes. Initially purposed as remote surveillance devices, (mounted cameras and maybe an arm), or mechanical mules (driverless pack wagons), early robots followed remote commands that were no more sophisticated than a typical RC toy car and joystick.
Unlike virtually every other segment of the economy, processor power has increased every few months with smaller size, bigger capacity and faster performance. And the available balance of system (BOS) technology has shadowed alongside with lower and lower costs. As the Futurist, author, and inventor Ray Kurzweil puts it, “We learn in a hierarchical fashion, and as a computer system (AI) learns layer upon layer of more and more information, it will begin to make logical decisions and come to conclusions on its own, thereby building more layers upon layers of more information. Eventually the singularity will be reached.”
The Singularity is defined by Kurzweil and others as a point where artificial intelligence, computer intelligence, augments and assists human intelligence so that the human ability to accomplished things will be drastically increased. The AI, as a robot or wearable technology, will be a personal assistant on steroids, anticipating every step you will take and helping to make it go smoothly.
Dr. Kurzweil was also recently named Director of Engineering at Google, where his first order of business is to re-create the human mind, a very ambitious AI project indeed.
Entrepreneurs, research and development firms, and government contractors alike then employed these newly acquired technologies, like faster processors and light weight carbon fibers, to develop better robotic solutions. Smaller, lighter “swarms” acting in unison and following a central command (from a human) were among the next products to grow from this technology evolution.
Clever researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Field and Space Robotics Laboratory are working on microbots that, when released in great numbers, will ‘hop’ about collecting data. Similarly, researchers over at Harvard have been studying the swarming characteristics of insects by way of their Kilobot Project. Video shows brigades of kilobots swarming, coordinate their movements in unison toward a common goal.
Then we have the University of Colorado at Boulder (UCB)ping-pong ball like droplet-bots that swarm to effect a common outcome. I can imagine 100s of these little ‘tribbles’ outfitted with communications systems, blanketing an urban neighborhood, and setting up an uninterrupted channel (or jamming any and all other forms of communication, including cell phones and first responder radios). “I am 7 of 9. We are collective. Resistance is futile.” (s-s-shiver)
The most famous wheeled family of robots to date would have to include the Martian Explorers. Our Man On Mars arrived on the red planet last August after a 253 day journey. the pictures have been spectacular; data and analysis of soil and rock is anxiously anticipated. he has performed flawlessly. The two previous Mars Rovers, Opportunity and Spirit operated amazingly for literally thirty times their expected tours of duty. They have, in fact “learned” as they aged and now have instructions to make decisions on their own, acting in fact as semi-retired field agents, reporting back if and when they feel it necessary. Bravo, boys!
Wheeled and walking robots have come a long way, but the fly-bots are making unprecedented advances in flight agility, ability, and deployment. Drones used in military action in then middle east get the most attention today, for obvious reasons I won’t get into. For the most part these drones fly and guide themselves, with military personnel manning a control via video and remote instrumentation in order to take specific actions or counteractions.
Smaller, hover-in-place quadcopters, equipped with cameras, seem to be the leading edge of overhead surveillance. Controlled remotely or following pre-programed flight plans, these little UFOs can give the Blue Angels a run for their money when it comes to synchronized flight aerobatics.
Cyber Technology designed the CyberQuad for “stealth” operations by reducing the rotor noise. features vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) and hovering capabilities like a helicopter, and has a payload capacity of 40 pounds. Wow.
On the micro end of the family of flying androids are winged beasties which mimic dragonflies and mosquitos . The MOBEE is only the size of a US quarter and weighs only 90 mg, or a mere three thousandths of an ounce. The Harvard University Project is one of many new “disruptive” technologies they are working on currently.
Sources tell me that the main purpose of these very small fly-bots is to deliver vaccines or antidotes to remote and dispersed populations. Note that the same could be used as a weapons delivery or tracking delivery system, equipped with GPS and affixing itself to the properly identified body temperature object. A cloud of dragon-flybots could be released from a truck and controlled by one individual with a transmitter and joystick.
At the same time military contractors . AeroVironment, were developing the Switchblade, an expendable aircraft light enough to be man-packable, simple enough to be deployed in minutes and can fly off over the horizon sending back video. It can loiter and watch silently (it’s electric) and is so small that it is very difficult to detect at night, even at close range.
These ‘drones’ were a result of the lighter weight processors, technology, and materials gained in breakthroughs realized just a couple years past. As one new technology pushed up to the next, advances got better faster – exponential growth.
The following info-graphic demonstrates the growth in computing technology and the projected curve for the balance of this century, as theorized by Kurzweil.
Truly exciting when you ponder the possibilities.
About Douglas Black
Douglas Black is a photojournalist and
green technologies analyst out of Chicago,
and is currently Managing Producer for
Earlier Douglas promoted greentech in Detroit as
Senior Marketing Strategist and Architect.
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