In 2005 Honda introduced us to the most advanced, walking, running, hopping ASIMO, an upright walking spaceman looking robot. Kind of cute. He played himself in a couple Hollywood films. Seemed to operate autonomously.
The reality was that the “intelligence” reflected merely preprogrammed responses to an anticipated script. Big Blue, the IBM artificial intelligence chess champ, he ain’t. Further, the mechanical movement was not much better than Robot from Lost In Space, and worse than C3PO of Star Wars Fame.
.As much as technology has advanced in just eight short years, poor little ASIMO gets a bit of a “meh” reaction now.As recently as January 2012 Bruno Maisonnier of Aldebaran Robotics appeared at a TED presentation with his troupe of choreographed dancing robots. Cute, but no more intelligent than a wooden puppet boy manipulated by some old guy with strings.
The state-of-the-art products in domestic robots of a few years ago were no more than specialty taskmasters with movement tailored to a specific mundane function which humans would rather delegate.
The Roomba vacuum is a good example. This squatty-bot has some basic mandates: suck up dirt, turn when it bumps into an obstacle. That’s an intelligence level just south of an earthworm. But face it, the computer circuitry, its onboard brain, is very small.
As micro processing capacity and power continue to increase exponentially, so too do the design opportunities for modern engineers.
As pointed out by futurist Ray Kurzweil in what he attributes to Moore’s law and the dictum of exponential growth of technology, computing power has been doubling every two years for the past century. And, says Kurzweil, “we are only a decade or two away from a singularity”, the point at which the intelligence of computers will be equal to humans in analysis capacity, speed, and memory capacity.
So, imagine Bruce Wayne without his valet Alfred T.C.Pennyworth. Could he be Batman? Hell no! The computer is rapidly going in the direction where we will all have our own personal Alfred, and we can all be Batman.
And if the computer is our Alfred, then the mechanical robotics, devices and wearable’s are the Batmobile of the future human experience. Hell Yeah!
Let me explain.
Just as specialty practices have become the status quo for physicians, each being highly qualified in one area or another, robotic technology has evolved piecemeal.
Science fiction of the twentieth century imagined the robots of the future, from Metropolis to Robby the Robot, and from C3PO to Terminator, as assistant or nemesis that would mimic human form to some degree.
The future is upon us and while it is true some developers are looking toward the mechanical humanoid (Brent Spiner’s Data character from Star trek comes to mind), other researchers and engineers are making advances in specific functionality at an amazingly rapid rate.
Data’s Star Fleet BFF Geordi La Forge (played flawlessly by LeVar Burton ) wore a prosthetic eyeband that improved his vision capabilities. Do I need to say Google Glass?
Specialty robotic assistance in prosthetics now allow an amputee the flexibility of 5-digits, tactile or HAPTIC INTERFACE awareness at fingertips, and even direct command through brainwave communication.
Bipedal robotic technology, creating those mini-me’s who walk upright for our benefit or amusement is advancing rapidly. The need for functional (and better than born with) prosthetic legs of war wounded has led to development of an upright walking soldier. PETMAN from Boston Dynamics is yet another in the long line of DARPA funded off-the-chart success stories.
The first bionic eyeball is now on the market, a sensory device that can communicate its view directly to the brain of the wearer and/or a remote observer who happens to be along for the ride. Wearable devices such as Google Glass can give the wearer a continual heads up display of information and database far larger than his or her own organic memory contain.
Put these components together, along with today’s computer technology, and the true humanoid cyborg materializes. Not later this century, or in 20 or so. We could see life-like android assistants in a couple years, say the BigDog handlers at Boston Dynamics.
If you bring together all of these specialists and assemble their parts, this morning’s robot is more advanced than R2D2 or Robby the Robot, and perhaps (sans snarky personalities) more advanced than C3PO or the Jetsons’ Rosie the Maid.
Tomorrow morning – much more capable.
But we are taking it further, much further. The holistic approach has been adopted to reproduce living creatures.
Let’s face it – if we could simply control the minds of the living creatures on our planet to do our bidding, like Tarzan summoned the beasts of the jungle in the Edgar Rice Burroughs classics, we would not likely be pursuing robotics for any use other than deep space exploration.
Just ask the whales to conduct a sea bottom survey for us, and send a slew of spiders into a coal mine for recon missions.
It just doesn’t work that way. Try telling your cat to do anything at all and you get a squinty glance at best, probably an indignant exit from the room as well. Swish of the tail.
Engineers and designers opened the box beyond humanoid long ago, and now robots, controlled remotely by computer programs fly, run, creep, roll and swim.
Researchers today are building beasties that mimic roaches, spiders, mosquitoes, and dragonflies. Bat wings are currently being perfected.
We have successfully launched robo-tuna and turtles in the oceans. Small bouncing hoards of bugs that think collectively like ants are a reality. Mechanical four legged ‘bots that can run faster than any human (including Usain Bolt) and robot packmules with a superstrength throwing arm in place of a skull, have today been successfully Beta tested.
So we have reached the tipping point. The power of computers is now at a point where the “consciousness of the collective” can become the DNA of a tribe of cyber assistance.
Here is what I mean.
A well stabled suburban family abode of 1950 could have included fish, birds, guinea pig, cat and dog. Kids and grown-ups alike enjoyed their pets, but they could be high maintenance, and ill-behaved at times.
Fast forward to 2015 and the finches become a dozen robobees, buzzing around the backyard and front, video taping and monitoring for activity. They hive when necessary for charging.
These cyber-bugs are not an independent flock but rather a direct appendage of the household’s robotic assistant overlord, like flying eyes and ears reporting to the central intelligence.
In a couple of years you may indeed have a yard hawk -a quadracopter drone equipped with a camera, remote higher altitude antennae and audio broadcasting ability for Tiki-Tiki music to play over the swimming pool while zapping mosquitoes with precision lasers.
That is unless you live in Texas, where your neighbor will most likely “shoot that damned buzzard ‘outta the sky”.
The guinea pig has become a small communications pod and docking station for your wearable iWatch or smartphone. While loaded with your mobile device, the”pig” will zip around the house, Mr. Underfoot at your heals and acting as proxy for video calls, voice chats and holographic message. Think Princess Leia to Luke in the Lars homestead.
The fish, if you have riparian rights, may be used to remotely explore your lake or salty lagoon, broadcasting their collective imagery to an applied monitor integrated into your living room wall. Imagine a school of fish POV floor to ceiling, wall to wall, in real time.
And a simple voice command to your RoboConcierge to “bring ‘em home Alfred” and the view turns toward your dock. Better than watching a fishtank. Self cleaning, too.
Fluffy the housecat can become a security specialist extension for Computer Alfred.
A smaller, stealthier Cheetah would detect and hunt down vermin and reptilian intruders, and also tasks such as running companion, health monitor, and courier.
BigDog is a natural yard work assistant. In fact, the robot lawn mower currently on the market could be steered and guided around the yard by BigDog like a border collie with its flock.
But BigDog is not a stand alone mechanical creature, but rather a part of the entire artificially intelligent collective system that assists its human colleagues in every facet of their ‘people-stuff’.
The ultimate goal, the Prime Directive, should be to make life easier for humans.
The manifestation of a real life Residential HAL9000, but not as malicious, is well within reach.
The strings will soon be cut, Pinocchio. The Robopacolypse is upon us.
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.
Connect on Google Plus