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Robots in the sand

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Image: CNN Money

The idea of robots roaming the earth alongside human beings is not a new one and it’s been widely assumed that the day would come where it would happen. From popular media to sci-fi novels, robots smart enough to live in our world have been an eventual outcome of the desire to bring science fiction to reality. Whether driven by the sheer excitement and allure of the idea or through legitimate research for the betterment of humanity, robots have come a long way since the days of 1960’s television shows. If asked, most people would say that they fall into one of two camps, those that would embrace our robot friends or those fear of the idea that they will become smarter than us and want to eliminate us. Regardless of which camp you fall into, it’s difficult to deny the advancements in robotics and how far the skills of robotics technicians have come and it appears as though robots are here to stay.  

While the idea of robots taking over the world may seem farfetched, especially if you look at what robots are actually capable of today, it would be unwise to not heed at least some of the warnings that are out there. Despite the borderline silliness of some of what robots can do, the rate at which they’re becoming smarter, more mobile, agile and they learn is becoming exponential and is predicted to outperform humans in almost every way within the next 50 years.

It’s Not All Doom and Gloom

Despite what we sometimes see in the movies, there are a lot of benefits to be had with living side by side with robots. While it’s certainly reasonable to be be creeped out with a robot that is attempting to mimic a human, especially in what a human looks like, modern day robotics are able to complete many tasks successfully and with more efficiency than humans can do. For example, how often do you look forward to vacuuming the house? Robots that have been made solely for the purpose of vacuuming your home have existed for some time now and do this job well. Or how about the use of robot pallets working simultaneously with other robots to pick your products from warehouse shelves when you order online? Not only will these robots find your product but they’ll also ensure that it arrives at the correct loading bay for delivery. All of this runs mostly autonomously, independent from human intervention. Of course, humans are still there to help with some tasks or when the robots break down, but the question arises, how long will it be before robots themselves can accomplish these tasks as well?

All About the Animals

In the world of robotics and artificial intelligence, robotics engineers and programmers do their absolute best to minimize the obviousness of what is called the uncanny valley. The uncanny valley is when a robot is intended as a human replica that appears almost, yet not exactly as a human. It often results as eeriness or revulsion by many observers, or an absence of what it means to be human. Until mitigating these effects can be accomplished, many engineers have focused on the animal kingdom as inspiration for robotics development. Some of the attributes and benefits of animals that have been mimicked so far include:

  • Flying and the way insect wings move in order to accomplish the same maneuvers that are seen in the wild. For example, the four wings of a dragonfly that all move independently and at different speeds and ways in which they move, which allow the dragonfly to move in a very specific way
  • Crawling and moving over difficult terrain. The way in which many amphibians, lizards, reptiles and rodents move over difficult terrain has inspired engineers to rethink leg movement and design, allowing robots to climb over obstacles that others would find challenging or impossible to pass. Some will also slither much like a snake does through less viscous things like sand or water.
  • Movement over less difficult terrain has also been analyzed. Animals that excel at speed and act as models for robots that will be able to run at high speeds, turn on a dime, or jump excessive heights. While it may be argued how a robot with this skill set could be beneficial to humans, it’s not so much that robotics engineers would build a robot that does these things to hunt humans, but more to understand how they can make better robots overall.

The world is filled with amazing creatures that are able to accomplish all sorts of amazing feats that humans can’t do. If developed responsibly, having robots work alongside humans can be a huge benefit to us through the betterment of all humans. Their use would increase the standard of living, and robots would help bridge the gap between third and first world countries to bring the standard of living discrepancies found throughout the world to an end.

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