Robots – new developments
New developments in robots technology are making tall waves.
Ever since ASIMO entered the stage and made headlines, people have been wondering what will come next and upstage it. The thing is, 2015 has seen some vast improvements in robotics, with several new robots and many improvements over the earlier models.
For instance, the latest development in humanoid robots comes from Iran: Surena, the third generation of robots named after a Parthian general, has made its debut. Unlike ASIMO, Surena is a man-sized robot, with human dimensions and with arguably improved intelligence, although considering ASIMO came out in 2000, this should not shock anyone. The only other similar robot out there that comes to mind is Atlas by Boston Dynamics.
This Iranian wonder can reportedly put to use its voice recognition software and actually interact with people and its surroundings. Of course, the vocabulary is severely limited to 200 words, and most of those are in Farsi, but this is still a vast improvement over the previous version. Furthermore, it can recognize faces and track them, while its advanced systems enable it to mimic some simple movements and gestures. According to its creators, this robot will find great use in manufacturing and as a life-saving instrument. After some modifications and adjustments, Surena could potentially find its way to various duties as a search and rescue robot, or as a replacement for some dangerous factory assignments, while some elements of its technology could be used in medicine in order to save people’s lives. Needless to say, all of these applications can and will have an effect on the economy as well as other aspects of life. We are assured that this technology is developed for peaceful, non-malicious purposes.
The third generation totals 31 degree of freedom: 6 in each leg, 7 in each arm, 2 in the neck, 1 in each hand and in the torso, and each of them is powered by either an electric motor or a servomotor package, which means Surena is capable of walking on most surfaces, kicking and picking up objects with its hands. Navigation is being handled by the Microsoft Kinect sensor. The new version is faster, more intelligent and has more degrees of freedom, enabling it to perform far more functions compared to its predecessor.
As for the competition, people over at Boston Dynamics believe their Atlas will one day be able to do everything that humans do. A few months ago, there was a video showing Atlas running over rocks and another that tested its stability in the open. ‘Cheetah’ may be the fastest robot right now, but it still runs on four legs, whereas Atlas only needs two.
What both development teams (those in Boston and those in Teheran) had to deal with is the fact that bipedal robots are extremely hard to make. While Atlas seems like it could run, researches have yet to make a version that can do that on its own, without being attached to the machine via cable. Surena on the other hand, although much slower, can still walk on its own. Both had gravity to contend with, and both have done so successfully. What makes Atlas impressive is the ability to traverse rocky surfaces at very high speed, for a bipedal robot, even if it was done in the lab. Outside, it could walk in the woods, on a truly random and uneven terrain. If only it could do that without the power cable…
Still, once perfected, its mobility will be comparable to that of an average human. Of course, we don’t know when will that be, but we do know that Boston Dynamics is a part of the Google X labs, so they definitely mean business.
Speaking of business, outside of movies, nerd conventions and robot battles, we don’t hear much about these little guys. Sure, ASIMO made headlines, but humanoid robots will become a reality in the years to come; not like in the Terminator franchise, of course, but military applications cannot be ruled out. Killer robots have inhabited the wet dreams of U.S. generals and dictators around the world since the 1980s, but robots need not necessarily be used to end lives; they might actually save them instead. Search and rescue missions will be much more successful if hundreds of robots who don’t need to eat, sleep or rest get on the job. And once they find people in need of medical assistance, they could be remotely controlled by medical professionals and save some lives that would otherwise be lost. Naturally, some rudimentary and mundane tasks might also be delegated to robots in the near future. Most factories have button pushing jobs that might as well be performed by robots, some of which already exist. We don’t know what the future has in store for us, but we know it will probably involve robots.