The Evolution of Robotics Marches On

Carl Weinschenk

It’s important to check back every so often on the progress being made in the robotics realm for two reasons. The first is that much of this sector is part and parcel of telepresence and unified communications. The other is that it is a very cool topic.

Folks who have been around for a while should think of robotics by imagining what folks in the middle of nowhere – on a farm in Nebraska, for instance – may have felt when they got their first radio. Suddenly, cold winter nights were made more bearable by being able to listen to music from New York City, entertainment shows from Chicago and on and on. It was a world transformed. That may be the same type of feeling a person could have after holding a real, creative and productive conversation with what in essence is nothing more than a piece of consumer electronics gear.

This science has advanced to the point of providing significantly weird experiences. Check out some of the videos linked to from this post on robots that I wrote in April. Here is another video on artificial intelligence.

The science is marching on, and quickly. Part of that march is aimed at cost reductions and clever implementations. CNET ran a piece about Double Robotics, a company that has introduced what the writer aptly described as “ambulatory telepresence”:

The company has a kit simply called "Double" that consists of a robotic, stripped-down Segway-like contraption with wheels, battery, iPad stand, and holder. Once the iPad is connected to the Double, the robot can be controlled remotely by someone using an app on another iPad, allowing that person to move around their virtual location.

The kit costs only $1,999.

The New York Times ran a long story detailing precisely where robotics is in industrial settings. This is a bit different: The robots are replacing workers on assembly lines and doing such things as driving bolts into airplanes under construction. The story shows, however, how far robotics has come and the acceptance of the basic premise that there are many scenarios in which people are unnecessary. This goes hand-in-glove with more IT-oriented use of robots. The dexterity of the industrial robots will make the untethering of telepresence easy.

In the future, the videoconferencing room or static desktop system will be only two of the venues to hold a remote meeting. Suddenly, remote meetings will flow like real interactions. It will be easy for two employees, one actually in the building and one attending via a surrogate, to stroll to the flesh-and-blood worker’s desk after the end of the official meeting in order to continue chatting.

Business Insider has a short survey of recent stories about robotics. It references the story in The New York Times and others that say robots can do a number of cool things, including write sports stories, compile Wikipedia listings, detect breast cancer more accurately than doctors, and work as models on the catwalk.

Some of the uses of robotics mentioned in the stories linked to here are not IT-specific. A robot shooting bolts into a car on an assembly line is not communicating at a distance with co-workers. What is happening, however, is that robots are finding more and greater use in the workplace in general. Increased use in teleconferencing and related sessions will flow from that.

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