When it comes to modern robotics it seems their functionality is limited at best – a lot of hype and little substance. We keep hearing about them but the wait seems to be taking forever.
These machines, which are capable of facilitating complex tasks on their own, walk, talk, interact with both computer systems and humans alike, are now moving into the minutiae of every day life humans rarely think about –and likely take for granted.
I’m afraid this is another “the wait is nearly over” post. But trust me, it really is!
There are a lot of obstacles which our robotic aides must defeat before they are deemed safe enough to become beloved consumer products, however their movement or balance aren’t necessarily chief concerns anymore.
In actuality, today’s robots are quite robust and the technologies that drive them are already ubiquitous. Balance and the ability to walk are granted by technology found in every day electronics. The gyroscope in a modern mobile device have been used to steady robots and flying drones for years, 3D printing has made the creation of robotic circuitry much more affordable, and key aspects of their hardware has been borrowed from automation technologies already in existence for quite some time.
So what’s the next challenge for our mechanized cousins?
Perhaps the most noteworthy challenge robotic producers face in 2016 is not how to make them work, but how to make them safer. It is this blogger’s opinion that their weight is a huge safety factor and can make or break how robots are adopted for home care purposes.
Robots like the ever popular C3PO from Star Wars tend to make real-world robotic engineers nervous; what if it fell over unto an unsuspecting human the machine was tasked with caring for? It’s a dangerous prospect for engineers; one that has far reaching consequences from the halls of your local insurance company right to the trigger-happy lawyers who drool at the very idea.
Who is to blame if a robot hurts a flesh-and-blood human being?
Well, engineers do not want to find out, and they are working around the clock to take robots to the next level –and how they’re doing it is incredibly ingenious.
Biology and Robotics Collide
With a driving need for robotics to be lighter and more responsive, project scientists, engineers, designers, and their uber-nerdy counterparts are looking to nature to solve modern robotics challenges; behold “biorobotics“.
One could call biorobotics the missing link, the Adam’s Rib of machina, another intersection between man and machine or in the very least, the link between robots of today and the robots of the future.
What are Biorobotics?
Simply put, the term “biorobotics” is an umbrella term for the marriage between cybernetics, bionics, and even genetic engineering.
There is no straight line defacto standard for the term, which is used somewhat loosely in the industry; however if you’re a fan of Ray Kurzweil or the Big Hero 6 Marvel/Disney franchise, the word and the current developments within the field will likely give you goosebumps.
Of course, these machines are far from “spiritual” as Kurzweil might imply with his bestselling book. Today they are merely importing qualities and attributes from nature that make them safer, lighter, and more fluid in terms of movement.
Three Ways Biorobotics Are About to Make Our Lives Easier (and Safer When They’re Around)
- They Will Care for the Elderly, Disabled, and Mentally Handicapped
Biorobotics don’t mean a future of human-like Terminator-style robots, maybe even the contrary. Before the elderly, disabled, or mentally handicapped will ever feel comfortable around them, their appearance may go in another direction –one more akin to Big Hero 6 soft robotics.
Instead of Arnold’s “uncanny valley” crossing in the Terminator films, where his robotic self looks like one of us, many robots will likely look more like Big Hero 6 bots –fluffy, padded –some might even call them fat. But they’re incredibly lightweight which makes them safe to be around in the event of an emergency, malfunction, or power loss.
- They Will Catch Us When We Fall
Falling down is a regular occurrence with the frail (and earlier robot iterations, too! Aibo, anyone?). Robots in the care-giving sector will need to be responsive and on task in order to keep us safe from our own frailties.
In order to accomplish this, very exciting new technologies are being used which bridge the natural with the synthetic. Circuitry in biorobotics involve more than chips and silicon wafers; it also uses salt water and liquid metal which flows through silicone skin to keep it flexible and its movements quick and fluid.
- They will Mimic Life
Much work has been done to make robots mimic organisms found in nature in order to facilitate complex tasks. Real life snakes have been emulated to create robotic iterations of them which help unearth archeological wonders (perhaps more bad ass than Indiana Jones; snakes are his biggest phobia).
How robots walk, talk, process information, and interact are all modelled after us humans and other living things in the natural world.
You know things are progressing well and we are closing in on our mechanized future when we’re focusing on the finer details of human/robot integration.
What do you think the robots of, dare we say it, pre-year 2020 will look and act like? Let us know in the comments.