The following article is based on my own interpretation of the said events. Any material borrowed from published and unpublished sources has been appropriately referenced. I will bear the sole responsibility for anything that is found to have been copied or misappropriated or misrepresented in the following post.
Ankur Thakur, MBA 2015-17, Vinod Gupta School of Management, IIT Kharagpur
For many years, the idea of robots has made for compelling science fiction movies. Now, however, robots are also transforming many industries—in real life. The robot is becoming an integral part of the global economy. For decades, industries have been using fully or semi-automated machines to improve efficiency and decrease labor costs. Every day, new reports and stories come out about innovations in robotics that have the potential to change our lives. Yet, even with all of the coverage and excitement, it remains difficult to gauge the extent of robotic integration in many industries.
Robotics company Boston Dynamics released a new video on February 23rd showcasing its upgraded Atlas robot, and the footage features a slew of impressive (and somewhat unsettling) new capabilities. The humanoid Atlas robot, which has been overhauled with a sleeker design, can be seen walking around untethered before it opens the front door to Boston Dynamics’ office and steps outside. The bot is then seen walking on uneven and snowy terrain, maneuvering around trees and correcting its balance several times. “It is specialized for mobile manipulation. It is electrically powered and hydraulically actuated. It uses sensors in its body and legs to balance and LIDAR and stereo sensors in its head to avoid obstacles, assess the terrain, help with navigation and manipulate objects.” Boston Dynamics wrote in a description of the video posted on YouTube.
Robots can also evoke an emotional response in us. The Pleo dinosaur robot toy is a good example. People tend to look at Pleo as if it were a real pet. The robot reacts to stimuli and simulates an animal’s responses. It seems to be able to express happiness, fear, frustration and even pain. While all of these reactions are artificial, our responses to Pleo are real.
Our ability to feel empathy toward an inanimate object may lead to another use for robots: therapeutic companionship. A well-designed robot that can react to our emotional states could serve as a companion during difficult times. In a medical context, robots could gather data about a patient to help doctors monitor the patient’s health.
Robots may also become useful tools to help children develop social skills. As we increase our understanding about autism and related conditions, we can design tools to help people integrate into society and understand social cues. Robots may teach us more about ourselves than we would learn otherwise.
Then there are the industrial and military uses for robots. We’re already relying on robots to work assembly lines. Military branches and police squads use robots for bomb detection and other hazardous duties. We’ll likely see even more widespread use of robots in these industries in the future.
The potential outcomes of robot integration are certainly debatable and indeterminate. Robotic innovations in one industry may drastically advance the functionality of robots in another. Breakthroughs that we expect to come quickly, such as widespread driverless cars, may take decades to come, while other completely unexpected robotic applications could surface in the next couple of years. The thing we can be sure of is this: they’re here, and they will only get more sophisticated.