In this new era where we see robots on TV making our cars, cleaning our floors, doing life-critical surgery, and “simply” zapping our corneas with a laser we have managed to slip into a state where “robots” are just another tool to help us.
Those still feeling let down that we don’t have flying cars just yet haven’t stopped and looked around: the science fiction dream of robots being in our households, military soldiers, factory workers, and more is HAPPENING!
And it is progressing fast…
Look around the world. Asimo, a breakthrough in humanoid technology. I watched it run across a stage years ago now and had to stop myself from thinking “aaahhhhh, that’s just a kid in a suit”. No, this robotic masterpiece is emulating a human. Some would say – perhaps if you put an “animatronic” skin on this you could call this a very, very expensive animatronic.
Not ten years ago in a 4th year mechatronics class Kam Leang taught us to program a MIT HandyBoard microcontroller, hack ultrasonic rangefinders from Polaroid cameras, and more to create a truly autonomous robotic hockey player. Hit a button, select defense or offense programs, and play two on two on a 8 foot long wood floor ‘rink’ with goals at magnetic north and south (so our hacked mini-van digital compasses could give us feedback to allow us to score on the OTHER guys goal!).
Now this technology is “simple”. True, there was a lot of mid-level electrical engineering involved and more than 10 digital and 8 analog inputs to manage a 2 motor differential drive H-bridge. But now we can simply go to “The Robot Shop” online and buy a kit / controller that has most all that in it. With instructions.
…Or simply buy a full humanoid biped to play around with. The Aldebaran NAO is a perfect example. It even comes in a well-designed plastic skin.