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Autonomous Robots

Written by Luke Burgess
Posted October 14, 2005

How real is the possibility that one day self-governing robots will be able to complete the same tasks as humans?

According to claims by a growing number of enthusiasts: very soon.

A robot in every house...

...Sound a little too 'Star Wars' for you? People a hundred years ago thought the same thing about a man on the moon. Of course back then it sounded a little too 'H.G. Wells' to them. Now a man on the moon would hardly receive the fanfare it did since the days of Neil Armstrong.

The same principle will apply to autonomous robots.

Robots are already virtually omni-present in industry. Autonomous robots today are use for welding and assembly, among other things. And now robots are being utilized by law enforcement, medical facilities, and the military.

Ultimately, robots will be everywhere, ranging from nanobots and "smart microbes", to cyborg and artificial beings of all descriptions and types.

And one company is attempting to bring the future to today.

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Founded in 1990 by roboticists from MIT, iRobot is a private Massachusetts-based company that designs behavior-based, artificially intelligent robots.

Powered by the company's unique AWARE Robot Intelligence Systems, the robots can navigate in complex and dynamic real-world situations, including navigating around furniture and searching abandoned buildings.

iRobot's most popular robot is the Roomba Vacuuming Robot. The company has already sold 1.3 million units worldwide.

The vacuuming robot uses dozens of sensors to monitor environment, and adjusts the robots behavior up to 67 times per second.

Now I know what you must be thinking... Who care's about a vacuuming robot? It's hardly the ultramodern, fantastic robot of science fiction films. But it is one huge step in that direction.

And while iRobots's androids are not far-flung, far-off science fiction, they are the beginning to a new trend that will incorporate robots and the real world.

Another company that has been leading the robot revolution is Honda. Although mainly known for reliability at an affordable price in the world of transportation, Honda has been in the "robot biz" since the mid-80's. Their goal, which is coming closer to being reached everyday, is to eventually have robots assisting and living with people in a harmonious fashion.

Let me introduce Honda's latest version of the humanoid robot. He's standing at 3.9 feet, weighing a new 114lbs; he can handle different terrain and climb up stairs, but you won't see him in your nearest Radio Shack for quite some time, I give you ASIMO!

Although his major accomplishments are limited to knowing how and when to shake hands, climb stairs, and move at a rate of 3km/hour over uneven and changing terrain, the potential is only being realized. This robot is on its way to being more and more "intelligent" everyday!

However, it is unlikely our homes will be populated by humanlike androids for a long time.

Currently household chores are the domain of domestic appliance robots such as iRobot's Roomba Vacuuming Robot. Sales for domestic robots are forecast to hit $20 million by 2008.

The main appliance of robots is currently to perform mundane chores around the house. But make no mistake; humanoid robots will come to pass. Maybe not next year or even in the next decade. But it is inevitable.

- Luke Burgess


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