Very interesting article on the status of robotics and how they will evolve
I look at this more than just robotics, remember that robotics is just the ultimate technological integration job
A lot of this technologies will either enhance robotics, or will enable other fields that we cannot even fathom now
The future is already here, it is just not widely available ; )
These are my (hopefully) educated personal opinions, but I am looking from the perspective of what is doable in the short term.
In the long term we all are dead ; )
#1 CO-ROBOTS: ROBOTS AS CO-WORKERS AND CO-INHABITANTS –TOO early now. Need other pieces of the puzzle, such as batteries, mechanical actuators, servors, etc. Good start, and tests and trials must continue. Very likely we will see this more by the end of the decade when technologies evolve to the right point. On the other hand, we are already seeing professional grade robots working and enhancing humans (underwater oil spill, space, drones), so that is here to stay and just get bigger and better.
#2 3D SENSING: THE KINECT REVOLUTION CONTINUES. - YES. BUT. I sense (pun intended) that there needs to be a good software solution that takes the 3D data and converts it into useful information. Maybe I do not play much with this ; ) Good direction and maybe the new generation kinect will solve many of these problems. Also, I would like to see smaller 3D sensor systems. Right now it is quite cumbersome to install a kinect to a robot. I remember a Nao (from Aldebaran) wearing one on his head, he looked like an Aztec priest ; ) I also expect this to consume tons of CPU cycles in order to make sense of the data, this can be applicable for anything where you want 3D perspective (robotics is just one area).
#3 CLOUD ROBOTICS: THE FORECAST CALLS FOR CLOUDS – I see this as a natural evolution. Just like humans consult the web (and in the past other people or books) I do not see why a robot cannot consult the internet when he needs to find something. Robots (like humans) have limited computing and storage capabilities, so using the cloud makes perfect sense. THE BIG question will be if the cloud is ready for the onslaught of queries and if it can respond real time. REMEMBER many of these robots will be in the middle of potentially life or else decisions (such as driving down a road, walking down the street, flying). This can definitely be an opportunity for service providers (most likely wireless companies) and infrastructure manufacturers.
#4 COMPLIANT ACTUATION: ROBOTS WITH A SOFT TOUCH – Don’t know. I think that a lot of the basic elements are still far into the future. Plus you need to ask you how much you really need this. This is probably too much of making robots look and act like us, which is not necessarily a must. Very nice to have, yes.
#5 SMARTPHONE-BASED ROBOTS: THE NEW ROBOT BRAINS – I saw a few of these at CES 2012. Good start. The advantage is that you can upgrade the robot easily. Just remove your tablet or smartphone. On the other hand, most of the smarphones do not have any high sophisticated capabilities needed for completely autonomous robots. A smart phone CPU cannot keep up with vision recognition algorithms for example. We need smart phones CPUs with the equivalent performance of a quad core laptop CPU. We will get there, in 2-3 Moore cycles (~ 4 - 6 years). Great starting point.
#6 LOW-COST MANIPULATION: A ROBOT ARM YOU CAN AFFORD – Yes. There is a good number of more affordable arms you can buy off the shelf. Either industrial grade or hobby quality. Many are coming with standard interfaces (USBs) so it becomes almost a plug and play. Good for small volume, dedicated robots. Still more work (price, performance, reliability) before it can make it into everyday products. MAYBE the initial use will be for people with physical disabilities (this seems to be a common thread), or small prototype shops (see 3D and manufacturing robots below)
#7 SELF-DRIVING VEHICLES: COMING TO A STREET NEAR YOU – They are actually here, you may just not notice. Nevada just approved the use of driverless vehicles. And experts agree that most of the technical elements are already in place. The big hurdle is legal. Experts believe it will take insurance companies to put pressure to make this happen. Once the data shows that a robotic car is safer than a regular human, we will see a push for wider adoption. Like anything in cars, it takes years, if not decades to implement. Many times it takes government action. We have the safest cars in history right now in our roads, this will just make them safer. Expect to see more (you already have a lot) of these features in high end cars. Also as elder people try to maintain their independence, we may see them being the early adopters (after all, seniors in the US tend to have some of the highest net worth of all age groups). You shall not forget that a lot of the big investors in robotics R&D have a lot to do with vehicle navigation (cars – Honda, Toyota; aircraft – Military) so the transfer of technology should happen as a matter of fact
#8 FACTORY ROBOT HELPERS: THE FUTURE OF MANUFACTURING – why are we even talking about this? This should be almost a no brainer. Ok, maybe just kidding. What we see is a lot more of what was developed for mobile and humanoid robots trickling into industrial robots. Fingers, visual recognition, etc. To me that was bound to happen, and we may see a bit more of the companies making and using industrial robots dabbling into mobile, service and personal robots.
#9 RAPID PROTOTYPING: A 3D PRINTER IN EVERY HOME – it is the app! Not sure if every home. Probably in every geek home ; ). I saw at least 3 companies offering printers or services at CES 2012. Some were professional look and started at $1.2K usd not the DIY we had seen before. The issue would be, who has the time to print stuff in 3D, and what do we do with it? I can think of kitchen utensils, devices. Definitely universities and small prototype shops should have several of this. A question I have is, how much computing performance do they consume? So far I have not see much. My son keeps asking me for one. I tell him I need to see a plan for using it smartly, not just to print toys.
#10 UNMANNED AERIAL VEHICLES: CROWDED SKIES – Almost here. FAA is looking into regulations for civil unmanned aircraft to be ready in 3 years. For security, law enforcement, fire fighters, first responders – YES. For almost all others, it will probably be in a as needed basis. Real estate professionals – YES. Most of us may pass, or just have it as another toy collecting dust in the garage if the price is right. I am open for other suggestions. In general size, computing performance, weight and battery duration are not where they need to be for widely adoption. BUT they will get there over time. AGAIN, whatever technological advances benefits this segment, will spill over in other areas, even traditional ones.
#11 TELEPRESENCE ROBOTS: YOUR AVATAR IN THE REAL WORLD – Not sure. Maybe. Depends. Ok they are here, but short from taking over the world. The theme across many of these technological forecasts is allowing people to do things, physically, that could not do otherwise. Like cars that will allow elder people to stay mobile, companion robots, etc. Here the avatars are taking hold where a person is incapable of being in another place (as in physical disability). I see this turning more into a security, surveillance device, rather than replacing a person’s presence somewhere. Interestingly enough all the technological ingredients to make this happen are already in place. Costs are reasonable. Wait and see? Mainstream or niche?
#12 BIONICS: THE LINE BETWEEN HUMANS AND MACHINES GETS BLURIER – Brain implants? Cyborgs? Too farfetched. I think we already have a lot of the elements to help us enhance and fix the human body, and that is where the opportunity lies. Hand, leg, foot prosthesis, exoskeletons. Not even mentioning pacemakers, artificial hips. Exoskeletons is a very interesting and promising area. In general the world population is becoming older and less agile and flexible. So if we can get people to wear a low cost, exoskeleton instead of driving a wheelchair, we would have done a tremendous jump in quality of life. Expect to see this first in severely disable people then migrate to others. They may combine with prosthesis as well as some level of mid reading. Yes, mind reading and muscle reading. There are already standard off the shelf headsets that can tell some basic functions (concentrate, relaxation, open hand, close, etc). Many prosthesis are coming with sensors that can read basic neural nodes so that you can open and close your hand by just thinking about it (and actuating on the appropriate muscle). Implantable eyes, terminator style? Maybe 2025 ; )
What is behind all these possibilities and needs?
We all know about Moore’s law, and how it also applies to almost any other technology in the world.
We also have the mega demographic trends that will make this a necessity: aging of the world population.
A few nuggets:
- Korea, Japan, Germany, Italy and Russia have had negative population growth for at least the last 3 years (even after accounting for immigration)
- According to the United Nations the World Population will stabilize in 2040, and may start decreasing (there are several scenarios, another is that it will just stay flat)
- Experts expect the Chinese labor force will peak around 2015, after that either will stay flat or decrease