IEEE outlines the future of robots - part two -

On Friday we published the first part of TechEye’s ‘future of robotics’ feature, below is the final part of our interview with IEEE robot expert, Antonio Espingardeiro.

As well as the role that robotics will have to play in search, rescue and space travel, the IEEE's robotics expert Antonio Espingardeiro outlines further ways in which robots will benefit and influence our lives, and indeed the planet, over the coming years.

 

Environment

According to Espingardeiro, one of the ways in which robotics will aid challenges such as climate change will be increasingly seen in the application of robotics into automobiles.

“The future of transports systems encompasses a lot of robotics and automation capabilities,” he tells us.

“As vehicles become fully electric, powered by renewable sources, the trend is to equip them with sensors that could help the human drivers.”

Not only will vehicles assist humans with driving by reading electrical road signals - downloading information in real time to the car's main computer - he provides renewed hope for Total Recall style taxi drivers, predicting that “cars in certain situations will actually drive autonomously in areas classified as extra dangerous”.

“Currently, according to the Next Generation Health, 1.3 million people die on the roads every year. Technology could soon drop those values by making our journeys safer.”

As more proof that we will soon be living out scenes from sci-fi films in the not too distant future, it seems that Wall-E’s trash collecting escapades could be introduced to our streets with Espingardeiro predicting recycling robots as a “promising area” for environmental robotics.

“Basically, machines such as “Dustbot” or “Dustcart” can be deployed for collecting rubbish at your doorstep almost 24 hours a day,” he explains.

“I foresee a future where millions of robots are deployed in our big cities. Such systems will work with the help of GPS coordinates to track the ‘rubbish’ clients and collect the matter.

“These systems could become more engaging as the levels of interaction could become mainly powered by Kinect type systems as I have mentioned previously.

“Interacting with a street robot in the future could become like a ‘game of gestures’.”

If keeping our streets nice and tidy wasn’t enough, Espingardeiro believes that us humans will also be able to put our feet up while our robot underlings grow our food.

With the 8.7 billion inhabitants currently scurrying about the earth’s surface, and the figure set to pass the 10 billion mark halfway through the century according to UN figures, Espingardeiro contends that it will be necessary to employ robotics to help feed the world population.

“We have to use new technologies to produce higher quantities of food and with better quality,” he says. “This means bringing robots to the picture. Robots equipped with new types of sensors could, for example, measure the height of individual plants over say 500 hectares of crops.

“Such a system can moderate the percentages of water, fertilisers and pesticides to administrate according to the development of every single plant.”

Espingardeiro believes this will be translated into a reduction of farming costs and "inevitably it will reduce the final prices of food".

“So the agriculture of the future is pretty much a technological playground for robots,” he continues. “It’s likely that such machines will work continuously under human supervision and management for longer periods of time, whilst humans dedicate their attention into other types of tasks.”

 

Healthcare

The World Health Organisation highlights that by 2020, 25 percent of Europe’s population will be over 60. Espingardeiro sees a substantial role for robotics in “supervision, entertainment, companionship and cognitive assistance” for humans.

Again, in the near future, he thinks it will be cheap and accessible motion sensor technology that will drive the revolutionary ways in which we will interact with machines.

“The new forms of interfacing with computers and robots will open a new set of opportunities for elderly care.

“People can use robots and virtual environments to entertain themselves whilst such systems work as therapeutic tools for keeping them mentally healthy and physically fit.

“Robot companions are a potential scenario.”

Espingardeiro believes that this could mean machines which help to remember medications, tasks, shopping list, and so on becoming “prominent in the household of the future”.

In terms of going under the knife, use of robotics is also likely to increase, as research into less invasive technologies continues.

“Robotic surgery will become common somewhere in the future,” says Espingardeiro, claiming that surgeons will increasingly control machines such as the Da Vinci robotic surgery system for operating “on patients remotely”.

However, with delays in communication a problem, with a necessity for surgeons to be as precise as possible to avoid hacking at the worng organ, Espingardeiro believes that more control will be given to robots.

“Beyond the domain of telerobotic surgery I think some degree of autonomy will be given to these machines for performing certain tasks that were extremely difficult for humans to execute with the same level of precision.

“Again, advancements in the domain of sensors and software will become crucial.”

 

Military

For military applications, Espingardeiro thinks that to a point, robotics have already taken hold.

“Robots at war is no longer part of science fiction,” he says, highlighting that by 2013 one third of the US' military ground vehicles will be semi-autonomous.

“More than 12,000 aerial drones or UAVs were used in Afghanistan and Iraq,” he continues.

“It’s basically the use of teleoperated vehicles by the human infantry that makes these robots lethal weapons.

“In my perspective, the war of the future is fought by machines.

“It will be a complete change of paradigm in the culture of war. It seems to me that the rules of war have to change, and maybe be adapted to the new era of robotic weapons.

“Such elements have to be agreed by representatives of all nations.

“Unfortunately wars are part of human biology and I don’t see them disappearing from the map,” Espingardeiro concludes.