Don't Look Now - the Robots Are Gaining

Carl Weinschenk
Slide Show

Five Innovations that Could Change the Way We Live, Work and Play

To some extent, coverage of robotics is outside the parameters of the mobility beat. But robotics is becoming more real, and traditional mobile devices - cameras, sound equipment and portable computers - are part of the equation. These perambulating devices need to have a way to "see" where they are and report those views - along in most cases with other information - to a central source that most likely still is manned by a human.

The other reason for covering this area is that it is very cool. Check out the videos at The Huffington Post. The bottom one on the first page - there is a slideshow with links to others - is striking. The Hanson Robotics device needs to move "his" lips a bit more when he is talking and have the back of his head finished. The folks in the video seemed to be reacting as if they were saying goodbye to a comrade.

The top video shows a Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) robot that can climb stairs. This robot, PETMAN, was initially built by Boston Dynamics last year. Stair climbing was added this year.

This is only the latest feat for PETMAN, which has already mastered walking. The robot's confident swagger has been the butt of jokes, but it wasn't designed to look like a human on the battlefield. PETMAN's primary purpose is testing chemical protection clothing, according to creator Boston Dynamics' website, and it can "simulate human physiology within the protective suit by controlling temperature, humidity and sweating when necessary."

Last week, Public Radio International (PRI) reported on something of a twist: Robots that are designed to keep humans safe. The devices are being used in South Korean prisons to "monitor, analyze and report behavior that could be dangerous to the health, welfare and safety of prisoners and prisons themselves." The story says that the robots carry sophisticated cameras. They operate autonomously or via iPads. The story ends on a note suggesting that folks better watch themselves in South Korea:

Researchers next goal is to develop a robot that can conduct body searches - but they acknowledge the technology isn't yet there, nor are prison systems.

On the other end of the spectrum are robots that are more concerned with keeping seniors in their homes than with body cavity searches. iRobot - the company that makes the Roomba floor cleaning device that simply rolls around the floor changing direction when it bumps into something - is working on a robot that can be the eyes and ears of medical professionals. The goal is to keep people in their homes longer. This elongates and increases their quality of life and cuts costs, since being at home is cheaper than a nursing home.


The robotic work going on now simply is stunning. The robots sound and look real. And, at least in the case of the Hanson Robotics unit, seem sentient.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Apr 16, 2012 6:34 PM Alezx Graygor Alezx Graygor  says:

Is it true that the robots will rise and take over the planet, but humans can take the world back when robots are weakened after fighting the zombies? I heard it was and I'm not sure I believe it but I've been very suspicious about my blender because the "Crushed Ice" button is sticking.


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