Robots that Feel Our Pain

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Robots that Feel Our Pain

According to the International Federation of Robots, industrial robots are now a $6 billion a year market, and another $12 billion is spent annually on software and support systems for them.1 Currently, there are about 1 million industrial robots working on assembly lines around the world, heavily concentrated in the automotive and electronics industries.

However, looking ahead, the most spectacular growth will come in the market for service bots, which clean floors, wash windows, mow lawns, and entertain people. Since 2002, a company called iRobot has sold 2 million Roomba floor-cleaning robots. According to United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, by 2008, 7 million service robots will be sold, with an estimated value of $7.4 billion.2

Until now, robots have been nothing more than programmable machines, with as much warmth and personality as a vacuum cleaner. But a new breed of service bots will be surprisingly lifelike because they will be able to interact with humans by responding not just to words, but also to emotions.

According to reports in Wired3 magazine and other sources, the latest advances in robotics were on display at the annual conference of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence in Boston last July.

A robot made by the University of Alberta won a poker tournament, which was significant because it showed that the machines could overcome challenges like “randomness and hidden states,” as typified by not knowing the cards of their opponents.

A robot made by Kansas State University triumphed in a scavenger hunt by using sonar to locate objects that were scattered around the room. This is important because it showed that bots could interact with their environment.

A robot made by the Music Technology Group at Spain’s Universitat Pompeu Fabra showed that it could play improvisational jazz. Instead of merely reproducing the notes of a song mechanically, the Spanish robot uses predictive algorithms to “feel” the moments when it should stretch a note or cut it short.

Other advances in robotics and artificial intelligence are also coming to light:

Last year, a Stanford University robotics team won a $2 million competition sponsored by DARPA, by programming a car to drive 131 miles across the Mojave Desert without a human at the controls.

Stanford is also developing a robot that can put dishes in a dishwasher, take out the garbage, and put together IKEA-type furniture using a hammer and screwdriver.

Poseidon Technologies of France is marketing an artificial intelligence system that uses underwater sensors to recognize when people are struggling in swimming pools...

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