Before we dive into the future of robotics, let’s check how well you know robotics.
Do you know the difference between a bot and a robot?
A bot is an application of AI used to automate tasks e.g. chatbot to book a flight. Whereas robots are hardware applications of AI that have bodies and motor abilities to accomplish physical tasks.
Did you know?
Just like Newton's Three Laws of Motion we also have "Three Laws of Robotics".
And guess what is common in both these laws?
The persons behind these laws have their name in common. Yes, that’s true.
The Three Laws of Robotics are a set of rules devised by the science fiction author Isaac Asimov. These were introduced in his 1942 short story "Runaround". The laws are:
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Since the time these laws were devised, we have come across a long way and so these calls for an update. Gone are the days when we just had humanoids in sci-fi movies, nowadays we have a wide range of simplest to complex robots like floor-washing robots, a robot with a single task that can be predetermined prior to it being switched on. In this case first and second laws make no sense as these machines may not harm humans or even requiring an ability to obey orders. Also, if we talk about robots that could be deployed on the battlefield, the first Law – not harming humans becomes irrelevant.
So now that you have enough of insight, let’s jump right into the technologic advancements in robotics that we might expect in the near future.
The journey of robots began with the classic humanoid of sci-fi to bots that crawl on six legs, or walk on two, or even bound around on a single limb, to bots powered not by limbs but magnetic fields i.e. the Microbots.
What are Microbots?
Inspired by some of Earth’s tiniest critters, microrobots are miniaturized, sophisticated machines designed to perform a specific task or tasks repeatedly and with accuracy. These typically have dimensions ranging from a fraction of a millimeter up to several millimeters. These allow emergency responders to explore environments that are too small or too dangerous for humans or larger robots; using them in “swarms” compensates for their relatively limited computational ability.
Moreover, microdots are taking a fantastic voyage into reality in medical.
In 2016, Professor Daniela Rus, Director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) at MIT and a team of researchers created an ingestible robots -- consumable, biocompatible microbots that repair our injuries from within.
According to US Foods and Drugs Administration, “It’s interesting, but we need to be very careful before it hits the markets,”
Currently, scientists are still working on certain technical issues like movement and drug delivery safety.
In the coming years, according to a new study by Grand View Research, Inc, the global surgical robot market is expected to reach USD 20.8 billion by 2024.
Now let's talk about the second biggest thing --
Exoskeletons: The wearable devices that allow users to augment their physical strength, helping those with physical disabilities to walk and climb.
Imagine your 90-year-old granny putting on a pair of compression tights that could strengthen her legs so that she could run around again and climb mountains.
Miraculous! Isn't it?
Let me tell you, it will be no more in our imagination as we are going to witness such amazing inventions in the near future.
According to Dr. Ian Pearson, a top futurologist, "When you get towards the late 2040s, you’ll probably start seeing quite a lot of medical use to help disabled people or old and frail people."
A Wintergreen Research report says that the rehabilitation robot market will grow from 43.3 million to 1.8 billion by 2020.
Exoskeleton technology will turn normal people into a superhuman. Let’s see how exoskeletons are making the world easier to navigate
Exoskeletons also have application in the military.
For instance, engineers at the US Army Research Laboratory are developing an exoskeleton with a third arm for use in military combat. The exoskeleton, called Third Arm, helps distribute the weight of heavy weapons and can stabilize weapons for more accurate shots.
Another interesting advancement that we can expect soon…
Self-aware robots could be a reality sooner than we may think, considering the many experiments going on in this area.
One such experiment that worth mentioning is the “Mirror Test”
The mirror test is a classic test for self-awareness. When this test was done on a humanoid named Nico, it gazed at the mirror kept in front of it, raised one arm, and recognized that this is its own reflection in the mirror. While this is not an amazing achievement as per human standards, it's definitely was an important step toward creating self-aware robots.
So, how long will it take for humans to build a robot that is self-aware?
Dr. David Hanson, the creator of the first humanoid Sophia, says we can expect one in the next five to ten years.
To conclude, the future of robotics sounds very promising and exciting, but at the same time, there is a high degree of global risk associated with such innovations. Microbots can be used as bio-weapons, i.e. artificial bees, with poisonous bites to deliver toxins. In the situation of warfare, an exoskeleton can be dangerous and as risky as nuclear weapons. Moreover, if a robot becomes self-aware, it would immediately make moves to untie itself irreversibly from human control and would begin to take actions on its own preference.
In order to avoid such hazardous situation, you need to be aware of them otherwise dealing with robotics can be fatal. Deploying such robots under standardized, disciplined and restricted environment will definitely reduce the associated risk.
A quote worth mentioning in this context,
“Every once in a while, a new technology, an old problem, and a big idea turn into an innovation”.