The Graveyard

The Lair Of Gary James

Paving The Way For Asimov’s Future

Posted by BigWords on August 10, 2009

…every research robot is designed for a specific objective. The UBot’s key ability is that it can balance itself, even when bumped – crucial if robots are to one day work alongside clumsy human beings. The Nao, on the other hand, can walk and even perform a kung-fu routine, as long as it is on a flat, smooth surface. But it can’t balance itself as robustly as the UBot and won’t easily be able to learn how.
On top of all this, each robot has its own unique hardware and software, so capabilities like balance implemented on one robot cannot easily be transferred to others.

MacGregor Campbell, Robots to get their own operating system
New Scientist Magazine p18; Aug 8-14, 2009

That might seem to be depressing reading material for anyone who hopes, one day, to get their very own Terminator, or maybe a fun little Tachikoma to drive to the shops in, but the news isn’t as bad as it seems. The title of the article should give you a clue as to why I’m (figuratively) jumping up and down with excitement. Yup, the days are numbered for chaos and incompatibility in robotics. It has taken enough time, but finally common sense has won the day.

I should point out that the Robot OS isn’t being taken up by everyone just yet, but the fact that the basic building blocks can now be built for fully-compatible and interchangeable robots means we are going to be one step closer to the ultimate killing machines better and more user-friendly artificial assistants. The current state of robotics is likened to the early days of the computer, when multiple – utterly incompatible – operating systems fought for dominance. It isn’t quite the same, but it is a useful comparison.

There’s a long way to go before the spirit of cooperation results in the kind of robots seen on film, but the idea is sound. I can, however foresee some problems which everyone has overlooked in their rush to celebrate.

People can be really, really selfish. It probably doesn’t need stating so bluntly, but the fact stands. Why would one research team with an acrobatic robot team up with a team which is working on a climbing robot? It would only be for personal gain, because the future of the technology might come second to personal glory for some people involved in this area. The article continues…

The Robot Operating System or ROS is an open-source set of programs meant to serve as a common platform for a wide range of robotics research.

Goody. It’s open source. Who’s using it though?

It is being developed and used by teams at Stanford University in California, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Technical University of Munich, Germany, among others.

Now I’m really interested. If MIT is seriously in to the tech then there must be some merit to it. The thought that one day – probably a few years away, but still – the vast differences between the robots currently being developed will come together to create something which works, if not looks, like a ‘real’ robot is delicious. It is almost enough to make up for the fact that flying cars will never see use in my lifetime. I’m still irked after finding out Mechs are impossible, but that is another post entirely…

The open source nature of the new OS means that bedroom designers across the world will be on a level playing field with the brightest and best robot designers on the planet.

Now, if someone wouldn’t mind putting a H.E.R.B.I.E.* together for me…


*Humanoid Experimental Robot, B-type, Integrated Electronics from Fantastic Four.


One Response to “Paving The Way For Asimov’s Future”

  1. […] Paving The Way For Asimov's Future « The GraveyardThe current state of robotics is likened to the early days of the computer, when multiple – utterly incompatible – operating systems fought for dominance. It isn’t quite the same, but it is a useful comparison. … […]

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