The Technological Milestone

Posted by M ws On Wednesday, September 19, 2012 0 comments
Check out 2012 – The Most Important Year Yet in Technology by Alex Daley AT THIS LINK.

I was particularly interested in second half of the article that discussed The Rise of the Robot.

Excerpt:

The Rise of the Robot

Robotics is not a new industry; any autoworker can attest to that. The very first robotic welding system was launched in 1964 in a General Motors plant in NJ. Ever since, the public imagination has been fired by visions of a world where robots replaced deadening human labor in every factory and warehouse, and robotic butlers served our every whim.

While nothing quite like either scenario has occurred in the ensuing years, industrial robotics has been growing at a steady pace, and now has become a $12 billion dollar per year industry. Robots provide precision welding at a breakneck pace; they lift and twist and turn remarkably heavy items; and take on other work that would be dangerous if not impossible for people do manually. But, while the industry continues to grow, it does so at an anemic pace, just barely outpacing global GDP growth.

However, there is another half to the market: service robots. Roughly defined, it's anything not industrial. Or, anything that doesn't help manufacture something. Instead, service robots help us complete more traditional service tasks, from cleaning to delivery. These helpful robots got their start as multi-armed offspring of their industrial brethren in the medical system, helping perform surgeries too delicate for clumsy human hands alone, like this Da Vinci surgical system from Intuitive Surgical:

The growth rate of medical robotics has been astounding and, as uptake from hospitals has skyrocketed, Intuitive has been one of the most successful stocks of the past decade for investors.

However, these types of human-assisted robotics are still a vestige of an earlier age, where robots were fighting with one arm tied behind their back. Or, rather, they were all arms, but were deaf and blind without even a sense of touch to guide them, making it difficult for them to navigate our complex human world.

That's now being addressed with a combination of better and cheaper sensors, and a little bit of intelligence. A number of things had to come together to enable robots to take to the ground (and even in some cases, the air):

· Sensors to navigate the world with. Pioneered mostly by the military—for use in spy satellites, fighter planes and night vision goggles– sophisticated sensors now allow robots to avoid falling down stairs or to judge the distance to an object passing through its path, and they have fallen dramatically in price over the years.

· Algorithms to efficiently navigate in a complicated environment. It's easy enough for everyone except a teenager to figure out how to clean an entire room, but try teaching your laptop how to vacuum. It's an amazingly hard task for a programmer. Add in people and other moving obstructions you can't just run into, and it,s taken decades of programming research to teach computers to move in the real world. But we've done it.

· The power to get the job done. The same technology enhancing electric cars– even if they aren't up to par with gasoline, the rate of change will get them there at some point as they are gaining ground steadily – and making it possible to hold a powerful computer in your jeans' pocket, is now giving robots the power sources they need to enable them to do serious computation and move around the world for hours at a time. Lower power requirements from the increasingly smaller and cheaper components are helping as well.

Those smarts, eyes and ears, and better power sources have all advanced to the point where we can now strap wheels on our robots and get them to do all sorts of things, like the latest, and cheapest yet, robotic lawnmower from Honda. Saturday mornings may never be the same. And, that robotic grass clipper is just one of an arsenal of gutter cleaning, floor mopping, and vacuuming robots now available to save you hours of labor at home.

While you may have seen a few of these home service robots, or may even own one or two of them like I do, the commercial applications are where the autonomous rubber is really meeting the road today.

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