From military and manufacturing to healthcare and education, a future closely tied to robotics is taking shape. Substantial and concerted scientific efforts are made with the aim to design versatile robots capable of adeptly engaging our environment. This has to potential to free us from routine, unpleasant and dangerous tasks.Here are 3 areas where robotics will take machines beyond human capability.Click To Tweet
Edgy Labs has broken down the three major areas within robotics where breakthroughs will take machines where humans can’t go:
Scientists have long been entertaining the idea of using robots as boots on the ground during disaster situations. Machines could assist rescuers working in difficult terrain or in unstable environments like in the rubble of a collapsed building. The most difficult challenge for this purpose is designing robots that are lightweight enough to move about easily, yet are strong and tough enough to withstand incredible weights.
With the Fukushima disaster still vivid in the recollection of many, the Tokyo Institute of Technology has partnered with Bridgestone Corporation to develop a new hydraulic robotic muscle that is lightweight, yet is five to ten times as strong as conventional electric motors and much more durable.
This new artificial muscle fills the gap between heavy, slow robots and fragile, mobile robots, paving the way for the emergence of small, flexible robots with a high strength-to-weight ratio.
Our sense of touch, which we take for granted, can be lost.
A paralyzed person or one with extensive nerve damage find the simplest of tasks, such as walking or picking up an apple, very hard to accomplish. They no longer fully control their strength, and fine motor skills responsible for gestures and expression can be very imprecise. Early robots, though not self-aware, must feel the same way.
After a decade of research, the Tactile Robotics Team from Bristol Robotics Laboratory designed a 3D-printed tactile-optical sensor, under the name of TacTip, which is low-cost, versatile, and efficient. TacTip can be mounted on robotic arms and integrated all the way through to the “hands.”
Now available in many versions, this sensor will push research further in soft robotics and tactile robotics. In prosthetics, for example, this tactile sensor could return the sense of touch to someone who had seemingly lost it forever.
3. Movement and Coordination
To operate in our physical environment, robots must be able to adapt to changing situations. With smooth and coordinated movement, robots could one day assist the movement of elderly people and those with disabilities. They could even be used to assist healthcare professionals rehab patients in hospitals.
SIMbot, a precursor to real-life BB8, seems to be a prime candidate. More than a decade ago, Ralph Hollis, a research professor at the Robotics Institute (Carnegie Mellon University) invented the Ballbot, a tall and thin robot that glides over a sphere that is smaller than a bowling ball. Hollis came back with an updated version of the Ballbot: SIMbot, which makes better use of the spherical design.
The spherical induction motor, or SIM, invented by Hollis and Masaaki Kumagai, a professor of engineering at Tohoku Gakuin University in Japan, excludes the mechanical drive systems and improves upon previous designs of ballbots. Electronic controls balancing SIMbot on top of the sphere allow it to move in any direction, and the precise yet simple mechanics make it less susceptible to damages than its predecessors.
Of course, many jobs, especially those involving repetitive tasks, will be automated. Yet, there will be some tasks and places that only man and his first ally, the animal, can accomplish. In Myanmar, for example, timber elephants are used to tow very heavy trunks in dense forests where there are no roads and vehicles can not pass.
We must learn from the past. At the beginning of the 19th century, the Luddites in Britain protested against the mechanization of weaving machinery. They couldn’t imagine that these promising innovations, such as electrification, could do anything but take away their way of life.
Fears of transhumanism or the idea of “playing God” notwithstanding, humanity will need robots to keep up with the tide of technological evolution.