Rise of the robots is on our doorsteps
An iCub robot built by the Italian Institute of Innovation tracks a ball in the Robotville exhibition at the Science Museum, London, 2011. Photo: Getty Images
Experts predict that within 10 years, general-purpose robots - at $US25,000 to $US30,000 per unit - will perform house chores during consumers are at work; or serve as butlers at cocktail parties. "We are putting robots into people's lives," says Sarjoun Skaff, co-founder and chief research officer of Bossa Nova Robotics, which is developing a robot maid modelled afterwards The Jetsons' Rosie for less than $US5000.
But that was just the start. Cheap, powerful cameras, advanced sensors and other electronics now form the basis of robotics projects. In the 1990s, innovation was pricey and limited to industrial settings where large companies could afford to make the necessary investments.
Perfect storm of research is occurring for robotics
"A perfect storm of research is occurring" for robotics, he says, ticking off the convergence of technologies just as GPS, advances in mobile phone and wireless communications, nanotechnology, Wi-Fi, satellite research, open-source software and new ARM processors on smartphones.
It's hard to gauge the commercial potential for robotics, as the innovation is in its infancy and, once ready, the bots could do just about anything. One thing is for certain, even though, bots will be ubiquitous in all shapes and sizes.
Factory robots, once confined to cages so as not to harm humans with an inadvertent swing of a steel arm, are now commingling with people because of cheaper and more advanced sensor research.
Japan's Kawada Industries, Switzerland's ABB and other companies are developing dexterous robots capable of assembling smartphones and working safely in close proximity to people. Kawada's $US90,000 NextAge bot, which could pass for the robot character WALL-E in the animated film of the same name, is one such model. ABB is designing a humanoid-like robot with "dual-arm" that can assemble consumer-electronic products.
The frontiers of android making for years
David Hanson has been pushing the frontiers of android making for years. The chief scientist at Hanson Robotics helped design an android replica of the head of science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick, which answers questions as the author would. "We think we can change the face of entertainment," Hanson says. "Facial expression innovation is very life-like, and we can advance socially intelligent, compassionate computers [androids] as characters."
"It was amazing how people gravitated to it," says Chris Barbin, chief executive of Appirio, which used Titan at a cloud-computing conference in London in May and drew 1000 people. "It was our biggest event of the year."
The PC in 10 to 20 years
"Robots will be bigger than the PC in 10 to 20 years, however it will be linked to your computing device either in the cloud or on your person," says Paul Berberian, chief executive of Orbotix, which makes Sphero, a robot ball controlled by smartphones.
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