By John Oram in California @ Wednesday, March 11, 2009 6:09 PM
| ||David Calkins is a widely respected robot builder. He teaches robotics and computer engineering at San Francisco State University, is the president of the Robotics Society of America, and founder of the international Robo Games/ROBOlympics competition. The room had people sitting on the floor and standing around the walls. Everybody wanted to learn about the state of the robot world. |
Of course, there were a few fearmonger questions about robots taking over the world. Calkins was very tactful in outlining why he doesn't think that is even a remote possibility. He also explained how the personal robot is now a fixture in the elder care community. It started in Japan and has spread to the southeastern US. Calkins spotted one of the stumbling blocks that have slowed wider acceptance - the robots are too mechanical. They lack personality characteristics that help the older patients bond with them. This raises the issue of what is the job of the elder care robot? Are they there to dispense pills at the proper time, be a platform for a video camera and an audio link to the nurse's station? Or are they there to be a buddy to a lonely elderly person? Calkins says the final outcome has yet to be decided.
Calkins said that what has brought robots back into the limelight is the battery technology from cell phones and laptops. Also, R&D funds spent by giant Japanese corporations have trickled down to the hobbyist robots.
Honda spent nearly a half billion dollars on its advanced step in innovative mobility (ASIMO) humanoid robot. ASIMO stands about four and half feet tall and can act autonomously. This size was chosen to allow it to operate freely in the human living space, and to make it people-friendly. At this size, the robot can operate light switches and door knobs, and work at tables and work benches. Its eyes are located at the level of an adult's eyes when the adult is sitting in a chair.
Hobbyist robots at 14 inches can stand on their own and cost about $800. Plus, they have the majority of the capabilities of the expensive corporate built robots. There are all kinds of robots, for nearly every purpose imaginable.
Today's hobbyist robots go from simple wheeled Lego-like units to near-ultimate fighting machines. Calkins works with NASA's Robotics Education Project to involve kids in the building and competition of robots. He helped mentor San Francisco's John O'Connell High School USFIRST robotics team in 2005. He showed a few slides of the various types of robots. One of the major design decisions is if the robot will walk upright or get around on wheels or treads. Calkins said that when an upright robot is standing still it still requires power, whereas a wheeled or tread robot takes no power to remain stationary.
Calkins had some interesting stories about Sony's AIBO (Artificial Intelligence robot, homonymous with 'pal' in Japanese). It was one of several types of robotic pets designed and manufactured by Sony. There have been several different models since their introduction in 1999. AIBO was discontinued in 2006.
This reporter will be doing more stories on the wild world of robots, simply because they are fun to watch. Calkins' brief overview showed all of us some very useful things robots can do repetitiously that are boring to humans. We will save his discussion on single purpose versus multi-purpose robots for next time. X
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