Two Robots that are Changing the World

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Robots! Robots! They're everywhere and innovations in the fields of technology and advanced robotics are happening every day. From drone aircraft to easily trainable robots that can work in a variety of jobs, robots are becoming a part of how things get done. Although we typically don't see them on a daily basis, as the technology grows, that may well change.


There are so many really interesting advances being made in robotics, it's hard to single out just two robot prototypes to discuss. For example, Baxter, the trainable robot from Rethink Robotics, is an amazing technological achievement on his own, but imagine for a moment that there was a way to combine him with Watson, IBM's adapting and learning supercomputer. It's a little scary but also very awesome to consider.


However, there are other robots that while not especially impressive on their own, are still changing the world. It's not just what they can do at the present, but what potential they show to other creators. A good example of this is Microsoft's Kinect. Although it represented a great breakthrough in game design and game play, the technology behind it is simply amazing. It seemed like as soon as the Kinect was available in stores, there were techies hacking the motion-sensing controller and finding other uses for the technology. Once pictures of the hacked Kinects started appearing online, Microsoft realized that they were on to something. Instead of fighting it, they decided to have a Kinect hacking competition in order to find out who has the best ideas and the winner will receive $20,000 in startup funding.


Still, there are two robots that have the potential to change robotics design, here they are:


Nano Quadrators – These tiny little flying robots are simply amazing. Created in Pennsylvania at Penn's General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception laboratory, these hovering robots have the ability to communicate with each other and fly in complex formations, instantly adjusting to obstacles or other conditions. You can even watch a video of them in action here. Right now, the Quadrators are really cool toys without much practical use, but the design and flexibility of the robot represents a big advance in the way that we think about what a robot can do. Already, there are other flying robots, the most interesting being a mini-drone that comes equipped with a webcam and can be controlled by a smart phone, allowing someone to have a recorded video of their day. It's a little scary to think what will happen when these become easily available. After all, there are people who feel the need to use Twitter to broadcast even the most mundane parts of their day, so, with full on video footage, anything is possible. On the other hand, being able to easily have several flying surveillance cameras could cut down on crime and could become a standard sight at banks and convenience stores across the country.


The RASSOR – NASA's Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot is being designed with the single goal of finding water on the moon. The robot is a teleoperated mobile robotic platform with excavation capability. One of the challenges in designing a robot that will work in low gravity conditions was coming up with a design that was both functional while still being small and light enough to make sending it to the moon economically feasible. Right now space transportation costs are high, and a trip to the moon costs about $4,000 per pound, so it was clear that the robot needed to be as small and lightweight as possible. The RASSOR looks sort of like the diligent trash compacting robot in Wall-E, and it features a rolling belt on its wheels and strong bladed arms designed to drill the moon's surface and pull itself upright in order to drill and dump. It may not be as cute as Wall-E, but this rugged space excavating robot is the first step in NASA's plan to ultimately build a manned lunar space station. Although the RASSOR is still a prototype, there is plenty of time to fine tune it before the planned launch in 2017.


Robots are no longer technology of the future, they are the technology of now and there's no way to stop their advance. Although there are some people who live in fear of the day that robots take over the planet, it's more likely that we'll see huge advances due to the work that only robots can do. However, if you are still afraid of a coming robot invasion (or just want a laugh), you can always get Robot Insurance as advertised in the SNL commercial here.


Image Source: NASA


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  • Melissa Kennedy
    Melissa Kennedy
    Scott, it's never too late to explore the things you're interested in. Maybe you aren't in a position to go back to school to study robotics, however there are many other options for making robotics a hobby. From groups that have build challenges like Destination Imagination (which is for high school kids, but they always need grown-up volunteers) to local groups that do robot wars. It's a great way to have fun, learn more and you never know, it could lead to other career options down the road. No matter what, you'll have fun and check something off of your bucket list.
  • Scott P
    Scott P
    It a great article. I made a career in a direction of necessity. I always wanted to work in the bio-mechanical field focused on robots as tools that help the handicap. Too bad I can't win the lottery to get my chance. Maybe my next life.

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