What to Expect from Robotics in 2014: Google, Japan, and Much More (VIDEOS)
Contributor Sean P. Bullock is a materials manufacturing professional, robotics nerd-enthusiast, citizen scholar, and manager of the unofficial DARPA Robotics Challenge Facebook page.
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Robots in 2014: Will They Finally Bring Me a Beer?!
A number of people have asked what I am most looking forward to and excited about regarding the robotics industry in 2014. And of course, there are the most two most obvious golden nuggets: the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals later this year, and Google's purchase of a diverse range of high-profile robotics companies (including the Japan-based DRC Trials winners, SCHAFT Robotics, and American firm Boston Dynamics); it seems to hold the promise of...what, nobody really knows yet. But something really cool, I'm sure. There’s also the fact that the super-secret Google X Robotics lab will be headed by Android wonder boy, Andy Ruben. These things excite me very much... VERY much.
However, in addition to the most visible and flashy robotics projects, there is a burgeoning world of robotics development out there set to spark the imaginations of another generation of nerd and engineering culture and beyond. This year, we will see some truly amazing things - things the media have barely touched on, and not all of it revolves around Google.
While the idea that my latest issue of the Sailor Moon comic book could be delivered by one of Amazon’s unmanned drones or Google’s bipedal robots is VERY cool, and sexy, and garners much media attention, the reality is that it will be some time before we see any of that. Certainly not this year anyway. No, much of what interests me, what I expect to see more of this year, are the all important personal assist, or assisted living robots for the elderly and disabled, and agricultural robots.
And I'll tell you why I think they are so important. Comprehensively, those two industries move hundreds of billions of dollars each year. Couple that fact with the fact that, in nearly all developed countries, populations are aging and labor forces are dwindling, and you get a perfect symmetry. So, here we have or will soon have both a need and rapidly advancing means.
Now, the question is: do we have the capability to fill that need? In my estimation, yes. Manufacturing costs are dropping. Advances in GPU processing power are leading to ever more versatility. Simpler user interfacing is allowing for ease of programming. Yada yada yada. All of this potential is about to to be unleashed upon the world, and it could lead to an era of technological proliferation dwarfing that of smart phones.
What? You don't believe it?
Well, let's just take a look at what's already is being done. Let's start with assisted living robotics, because that holds a special place in my heart (and I'm not even going to mention ASIMO).
Ever heard of a company called Toyota? They are rapidly developing no fewer than five very impressive robots engineered specifically for helping the elderly and disabled with their daily needs. Toyota doesn't usually make you think "robotics," but check out there are links below.
Cyberdyne is another Japanese company doing some pretty amazing things. Allowing wheelchair-bound individuals to walk for the first time in years, for example - that’s pretty amazing.
DLR Robotics, a German company, has some very advanced humanoids and is also working on assisted living power suits.
These are just the tip of the iceberg.
Now, regarding agricultural robotics, there are already a number of machines fully capable of harvesting lettuce, picking strawberries and cucumbers, as well as simple pick/place bots that can can move hundreds of heavy plant pots (not pot plants) in a matter of hours. Large machine automation, think giant dumptrucks and harvesters, is also making big strides.
Being Excited for Robotics in 2014
The timing is right. It has to happen. It has to...because I believe (and desperately nerd-need) these two industries, assistive robotics and agricultural automation, to be the gateway to common use robotics for everyday guys & gals like you and me.
Lastly, it might not be obvious, but the real reason I want, and hope, and expect to see all this and more come to further fruition this year is that I want my own pet robot. Yes, I want a robot that will be my friend, cheer me up when I am down, kiss my booboo's, and fetch me a beer and a donut when I command it.
There is nothing wrong with that…right?
Cyberdyne Power Suit
DLR Rollin' Justin Cleaning Windows
DLR Rollin' Justin Catching Balls
Harvey Moving Pots
Cucumber Picking Robot
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More About the Author:
Sean P. Bullock is a self-stylized rugged individual/Homo technologicus/Introverted extropian extraordinaire, entrepreneur and founder of the contract manufacturing firm Delta C Dynamics, LLC. His professional experience spans Russian nuclear reactors, Mars missions, the F-35 Lightning II fighter jet, surface-to-air missiles, the Navy Blue Angels, robotics, lasers...and donuts. This combined with his unwavering enthusiasm for all things science and science fiction make him the perfect candidate for...well, nobody really knows. He looks to the [robot] future with bright and open eyes.