Robots are set to seep into every aspect of our lives

Since the 1950s, robotic technology has advanced to a point where we are now being assisted by robots in the manufacturing, space, military, civil security and transportation fields. In the manufacturing industry, many human jobs are already being performed by robots.

This has caused a substantial decline in accidents, worker injuries and manufacturing failures. But those are mainly robots made for static surroundings. With the development of robotics in the 21st century, that’s about to change.

As trend watching predicts, future technology will include mobile robots that can be navigated by using the existing static robotic application, enabling them to operate in environments beyond human reach. Frost & Sullivan’s recent study called ”The Future of Mobile Robots” suggests that the mobile robots market will reach $17 billion by 2020.

But the problem is how to develop robots which are able to identify our emotions and react to them effectively. By incorporating artificial intelligence, futurologists hope to be able to develop a new line of mobile robots who can behave like humans.

Softbank, a Japanese telecommunication company created a human-like robot called Pepper which is able to recognise human emotions by using voice recognition technology and algorithms. With these, Pepper can identify our emotions from our facial expressions and tone of voice. There’s a wide spectrum of fields where this technology can be applied and in this article we will mention some of the most interesting ones.

Softbank's social robot Pepper. Image courtesy of Softbank

Softbank’s social robot Pepper. Image courtesy of Softbank

The service industry

Illah Nourbakhsh, trend watcher and professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon University, claims that robots will increasingly become part of the service industry as they become more communicative.

In Japan, there are places where robots even work as assistants, taking and delivering orders. Imagine a restaurant with robotic waiters that know exactly what you like and dislike, based on information about you in your online profiles.

Medicine and health

Another field that will be greatly influenced by robots is the health sector. Miniature robots that perform surgeries are no longer science fiction.

Scientists at Autodesk are developing nano-robots that will kill cancer cells after being injected into a patient’s body. Moreover, we have already developed robotic exoskeletons that help paralysed patients walk again.

Or, think of robots helping nurses and physicians in hospitals. The UCSF Medical Centre at Mission Bay, San Francisco is actually developing not one but two such robots.

One of them is responsible for the delivery of medical supplies, drugs, bed sheets and so on, to desired locations in the hospital. The other one serves food, remotely ordered by patients from their rooms.

Image courtesy of RIKEN

Image courtesy of RIKEN

Education

Some schools in the US already use robots as teaching aids. However, trend watchers claim that they will perform much bigger roles in the near future and even evolve into independent teachers.

”Robots will improve classes by replacing traditional teaching methods with active work on real-world problems’,” futurist Hourbakhsh explains.

Furthermore, companies across the world have started to develop robots to assist in special education. The result – a toy-like robot that catches children’s attention more easily which improves their learning and costs less than traditional education methods for children with disabilities.

Image courtesy of Google

Image courtesy of Google

Transportation

The most popular disruptive technology today seems to be the autonomous cars. Companies like Google, Tesla and Uber have already developed this technology. They intend to target both the private and the public sector.

By the end of 2016, autonomous vehicles are planned to be tested in 30 cities across the US and the UK. Experts believe that this technology will help improve city efficiency and solve problems like air pollution.

A study conducted by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development in Portugal suggests that implementing so called ”taxibots” in Lisbon would reduce the number of cars in the city by 90% and significantly decrease levels of air pollution.

Where will the integration of future technologies lead us?

Developments of disruptive robotics technologies are certainly going to transform the industries mentioned in this article. In the very near future, more and more fields will involve robots in order to enhance productivity, reduce production costs and make end products easily accessible to consumers.

On the other hand, however, there is concern that robots will take our jobs away. Even if this happens, new areas of production and career prospects will become available. But one thing is certain: robots are getting better and better and they are here to stay.


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Researchers have found a running style for six-legged robots that significantly improves on the traditional nature-inspired method of movement.

The research, conducted by scientists at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and the University of Lausanne (UNIL) in Switzerland, found that as long as the robots are not equipped with insect-like adhesive pads, it is faster for them to move with only two legs on the ground at any given time.

Robotics has in the past few years made heavy use of biomimicry – the practice of mimicking natural systems – resulting in six-legged robots being designed to move like insects. In nature, insects use what is known as a tripod gait, where they have three legs on the ground at a time, so it had been assumed that this was the most efficient way for similarly legged robots to move.

However, by undertaking a series of computer simulations, tests on robots and experiments on Drosophila melanogaster – better known as the common fruit fly – the scientists found that the two-legged approach, which they have dubbed the bipod gait, results in faster and more efficient movement.

The core goal of the research, which is published today in the journal Nature Communications, was to confirm whether the long-held assumption that a tripod gait was best was indeed correct.

“We wanted to determine why insects use a tripod gait and identify whether it is, indeed, the fastest way for six-legged animals and robots to walk,” said Pavan Ramdya, study co-lead and corresponding author.

Initially, this involved the use of a simulated insect model based on the common fruit fly and an algorithm designed to mimic different evolutionary stages. This algorithm simulated different potential gaits to create a shortlist of those that it deemed to be the fastest.

This, however, shed light on why insects have a tripod gait – and why it may not be the best option for robots. The simulations showed that the traditional tripod gait works in combination with the adhesive pad found on the ends of insects’ legs to make climbing over vertical surfaces such as rocks easier and quicker.

Robots, however, are typically designed to walk along flat surfaces, and so the benefits of such a gait are lost.

“Our findings support the idea that insects use a tripod gait to most effectively walk on surfaces in three dimensions, and because their legs have adhesive properties. This confirms a long-standing biological hypothesis,” said Ramdya. “Ground robots should therefore break free from only using the tripod gait”.

Study co-lead authors Robin Thandiackal (left) and Pavan Ramdya with the six-legged robot used in the research. Images courtesy of EPFL/Alain Herzog

To for always corroborate the simulation’s findings, the researchers built a six-legged robot that could move either with a bipod or tripod gait, and which quickly confirmed the research by being faster when moving with just two legs on the ground at once.

However, they went further by confirming that the adhesive pads were in fact playing a role in the insect’s tripod movement.

They did this by equipping the fruit flies with tiny polymer boots that would cover the adhesive pads, and so remove their role in the way the insects moved. The flies’ responses confirms their theory: they began moving with a bipod-like gate rather than their conventional tripod-style movement.

“This result shows that, unlike most robots, animals can adapt to find new ways of walking under new circumstances,” said study co-lead author Robin Thandiackal.

As bizarre as the research sounds, it provides valuable new insights both for roboticists and biologists, and could lead to a new standard in the way that six legged robots are designed to move.

“There is a natural dialogue between robotics and biology: Many robot designers are inspired by nature and biologists can use robots to better understand the behavior of animal species,” added Thandiackal. “We believe that our work represents an important contribution to the study of animal and robotic locomotion.”