Robots – new developments

Outside of science fiction, we don’t get to see that many robots or hear about developments in robotics unless it is something spectacular; humanoid robots are becoming a reality. Although, we may have to wait for a decade or two before they become commercially available to the general public. So far, creating an autonomous unit governed by artificial intelligence has eluded science in its true form, but as the news keep coming, we are getting surprised by developments from all around the world, even though there are currently a handful of countries that possess the technology to build humanoid robots.
For instance, Iran has recently launched  Surena III. It is the third generation of humanoid robots, coming just five years after the second one and seven years after the initial prototype. Surena was originally an ancient Parthian general, and served as an inspiration for the robot. The original could only pronounce predefined text, along with remote control and some rudimentary tracking ability. The second generation was smaller and lighter, but could walk on its own by combining movements of its hands, legs and head. Being able to dance and stand on one leg and featuring 22 degrees of freedom, it still lagged behind other models, such as Asimo, particularly due to the lack of sensors and slow moving pace. This latest robot, however, features 31 degree of freedom. Surena has become faster and more agile. It can now navigate stairs, uneven terrain, drift and even interact with its surroundings. Designers claim it can recognize human faces and track their motion, in addition of in impressive vocabulary of 200 words in Farsi.
Another newcomer is Chinese runner, or better yet “walker” – Xingzhe. It currently boasts the world record in the distance travelled by a quadruped robot, a feat accomplished due to its simplistic shape and 134 km of distance it covered, even though it took it more than two days and its battery eventually gave out. While not a humanoid robot, unless you think humans walk on four legs and look like a box, Xingzhe is controlled by a computer and despite endurance, this version probably will not set any speed records. Even though walking in circles on a flat surface is nothing new to robotics, testing the endurance limits certainly is. It means robots will eventually become more reliable and resilient. Those robots that are used today lack many features we would normally desire, like autonomy or the ability to operate for prolonged periods of time – their battery life leaves a lot to be desired.
If you want speed, then Atlas by Boston Dynamics (owned by Google) is just the thing. One of the fastest robots out there, as it can actually run. Recent footage showed it running through the forest – on uneven terrain, albeit the stamina seems to be lacking, but an improved battery should fix that in the future. The shape of the robots is also varied: from snake-like contraptions to spider and centipede lookalikes, robots are becoming more sophisticated year after year. The new snake robot from Georgia Institute of Technology can traverse sandy surfaces and even go uphill. Intelligence-wise, some robots can already be programmed to impersonate pets, like dogs. It will take some time to reach that level of intelligence though, but the results look promising.
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From a different standpoint, enabling robots to operate tasks that are deemed too dangerous or difficult for humans can have serious and far-reaching consequences for the economy. Robots have already found their way into a lot of manufacturing plants, taking thousands of jobs in the process, but making their owners very wealthy in the process. Furthermore, since this field generates a lot of interest, it will serve as a magnet for investments from governments and private sector alike. Governments are looking for a way to automate certain sectors, with a special focus on military applications, so the company that manages to construct an efficient platform with enough intelligence to be sent into battle and not kill its allies will earn massive profits in a matter of years, not to mention lucrative military contracts in the years to come – a coveted position to be sure. On the other hand, developing robots that can perform heavy manual labor with skill and precision will drastically cut down on the production costs, even if they are less than perfect in terms of speed and intelligence, so this also presents an interesting opportunity for companies around the world. The need is so great that even Iran, China and India are getting in on it, aside from Japan that pretty much pioneered the entire process and the U.S. with its motives and nearly unlimited resources. One thing is for certain: robots will be more efficient, and very soon, too.
Robots are without a doubt the future. You should probably find yourself a broker who knows how to leverage this.