Future Of Robotics Literature Review
Technology has getting more advanced each year, especially in the field of robotics. Moreover, not only the robots are getting advanced, but they are more useful, more intelligent and more independent than from the past. The initial goal of robotics is to become an alternative for human labor, which is emphasized because the word robot originally came from the word "robota", meaning "labor" (Galileo Educational Network).
However, as science permits more advancements, robotics did not just focus on attaining an alternative for human labor. Current robotics innovation focus on designing robots that could function on its own while doing more accurate jobs. Moreover, the field of robotics crossed the field of biophysics as robotics are closer to designing artificial body parts that could interpret brain signals while having muscle-like functions. In addition, the robots were designed with extraordinary "senses" that enables them to function properly without having complicated systems. Furthermore, current robotics are closer to emulate the human body and intelligence as more robots were designed not just to look like a human being, but move and think like a human being. And sometimes, researchers design robots that could surpass the way humans decide and move.
According to the Galileo Educational Network, there is generally no standard definition for the word robot. However, essential characteristics exists to categorize robots from non-robots. These essential characteristics are classified into four general categories: (1) sensing, or the ability to sense various stimuli, (2) movement, or the ability to move or perform motor functions, (3) energy, which means that the robot must have its own power supply, and (4) intelligence and programming, or the operational system that controls the robot.
However, it is important to note that the inexistence of the standard definition for the word robot is because there has been countless robots that were created with various functions and models. Thus, not only they differ with their appearance, but also because they have different functions, control systems and sensors.
Although, as mentioned before, initially, robots were designed to appear similar to human beings that could also function like a human being. In general, they were designed so that they could become alternatives for human workforce. It may sound simplistic, but designing a robot that could work similar to humans is a difficult task.
For instance, the National Science Foundation researchers found themselves in a difficult situation when they sought to design a robot that could do a simple task, a robot that could do the laundry. Initially, their problem appeared when programming the robot. The technology for sensing and manipulation was not sufficiently good to account for the number of clothing pieces in the pile and in the hands (in this case, "claws") when picking up (National Science Foundation).
However, an innovative idea came across, which is to develop a "generalized plan". The "generalized plans" refer to the plans that would not work in a particular situation but rather in a wide variety of situations (National Science Foundation). Thus, the future of this robot is directed towards a robot that could do the laundry perfectly. What this implies is that the future of robotics is becoming closer to what it initially aims for, to create robots that could become an alternative for human labor, even for simple daily chores.
Another aspect of current technology in robotics is that the robots are becoming more economical in the use of its space, power, and system. In sci-fi movies, future robots could transform into certain objects so that it could perform their other functions, or to minimize the space they acquire. Also, it is important to note that the main problem of a robot is when one of its parts is subjected into damage.
Fortunately, researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder is optimistic for the future to have robots that could transform into something to adapt to nature. The future of this robotics remain dependent on the advancements in material sciences, manufacturing processes and distributed algorithms. The authors of the journal, Nikolaus Corell and Michael McEvoy, are the primary investigators of this field. They are currently developing "robotic materials" that involves integration between algorithm, sensing, and transforming from one material property into another. These "robotic materials" could have sensory system to envision the environment while algorithm and actual transformation responds to express adaptation. For example, shoe insoles could adapt to different pressures while walking and running (McEvoy & Corell 1328-1336).
However, there still are problems with this technology. Robotic materials that work on a larger scale are difficult to scale down while Nano- and micro scale materials could not be scaled up. Moreover, there exists educational gap, which is the insufficient interdisciplinary knowledge from materials science, computer science, or robotics itself (McEvoy & Corell 1328-1336). Still, advancements from this field suggest that the future would observe robotic materials that could adapt to different stimuli from the environment.
One other advancement that we could probably observe in the future is the presence of bio-inspired robotics that could function similar to our body parts and interpret brain signals. There are two main objectives of this field: (1) to design a material that functions similar to muscles, and (2) sensors that could interpret brain signals.
For the first objective of this field, it is currently under development. However, the technology is now closer than ever in attaining this goal. Researchers from the Saarland University have developed a prosthetic arm that are equipped with "shape-memory wire" muscles. These materials enable the arm to be flexible while being lightweight, as opposed to current and expensive prosthetic arms. These fibers are bundles of nickel-titanium alloy wires that are ultrafine so that the arm could tense and flex. Moreover, the prosthetic arm could perform precise movements because of the sensory properties of the materials (University Saarland).
On the other hand, sensors that could interpret brain signals are also under development. "Bionic reconstruction" is a major breakthrough in this field because in enables the robotic prosthetics to be controlled by the mind of a human being. Researchers and engineers led by Oskar Aszmann have developed a new technique combining selective nerve, muscle transfers, replacement, and elective amputation into an advanced robotic prosthesis. This advanced robotic prosthesis uses a variety of sensors enabling the prosthesis to respond to different electrical signals in the muscles from the brain (Aszmann et al. 1-7).
The combination of these two advancements enables us to hope for the future to have better prostheses for amputees. The future robotic prostheses would have muscle-like function that could be controlled by the brain.
Finally, one of the most challenging situations in the field of robotics is currently tackling by our researchers and engineers. The said challenge is to design a robot that would have emotions, and memory, similar to human beings.
A prototype of a robot that have emotions and memory has been developed by researchers from the University of Hertfordshire. The prototype have various functions, but is more focused in being a companion for humans, especially for aging individuals. The prototype could remember and recall knowledge while it could interact with other human beings using emotions such as empathy, social intelligence, and ethics and social norm (University of Hertfordshire).
Aszmann, O.C. et al. “Bionic reconstruction to restore hand function after brachial plexus injury: a case series of three patients.” The Lancet, 25 February 2015. Web.
Galileo Educational Network. “Introduction to Robots.” Galileo.org, 2003. Web.
McEvoy, M.A., & Correll, N. “Materials that couple sensing, actuation, computation, and communication.” Science 347.6228 (2015) 1328-1336. Print.
National Science Foundation. “Human insights inspire solutions for household robots.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 February 2015. Web.