Robotic Friday

By Robert Hickson 24/10/2013

The Atlantic has two articles about robots this week. The first has pictures of Robots at Work and Play, though its more work than play. Robotic camel jockeys anyone? The most intriguing one for me was the mobile fish pen system that “wanders” the ocean gathering data that can help solve water quality and seafloor impact problems.

The others are what you’d probably expect – military, industrial and scientific bots, with a few gimicky bartenders, waiters, and humanoid robots thrown in. But it gives a good quick overview of the diversity emerging.

The second Atlantic article allays fears (perhaps) that robots and automated systems are inherently better than us. Humans, particularly when several are involved, are better at solving some problems. For now at least. Tired of hearing about cloud computing? The article throws out a new meme – crowd computing.

M-bots that will be able to swarm and self-assemble are under development – for potential use in emergency repairs, or perhaps art.

Depending on your level of technological geekiness, one of the coolest or scariest, robots around now is the WildCat. Look at this baby run!


Can’t wait to get your autonomous car to get away from (or run with) the WildCat? You’ll still have to wait a while if you aren’t rich. Beyond the cost, is the need for the human behind the wheel to still be prepared to over-ride the system. Designers are still figuring out how to ensure the potential driver remains attentive enough to act. And having a big red button on the dashboard to kill the car in an emergency doesn’t strike me as particularly reassuring.

For more sober reading, the International Federation of Robotics have released their 2013 report on trends in robotics. Only modest increases in the numbers of industrial and service robots in service, but the numbers of countries and industries using them are growing. China is anticipated to have a large appetite for robots in the future. India not so much.

Personal robots have much lower growth projections.

Rather than job destroyers, a separate report notes that use of robots and automated systems can increase the numbers of jobs for humans. At least in some industries, such as the automotive sector in Germany. This comes about through increased productivity, and quality improvement.