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March 25, 2002 Two Legs Good You've met C-3PO and R2-D2. Now meet SDR-4X, the new "entertainment robot" Sony unveiled last week. It's a cute, knee-high robot that lists singing and conversation among its accomplishments — making it a lot less useful than the Star Wars androids, but a fun toy nonetheless. It has a vocabulary of 60,000 words, it can walk by itself, and once it gets to know you, it will recognize your face. SDR-4X is the newest member of the growing family of humanoid robots, and it's one of many that will be on display A Robot Is Born at Robodex 2002, a four-day exhibition that begins this The word "robot" was coined by the Czech playwright, Thursday in Japan. Featuring thousands of electronic creations Karel Capek (CHOP ek) in a play published in 1920 — of all shapes and sizes, the exhibition will focus on "robots as Rossum's Universal Robots, or R.U.R. Capek derived partners." The official word is that "the goal of Robodex is to the word "robot" from the Czech word robota, which provide people with 'love' and 'dreams' through robots and to means "harsh or forced labor." realize a society where humans and robots cohabit with each other." R.U.R takes place in a factory in which artificial humans (robots) are manufactured as a cheap labor Is that kind of society a very distant dream? Not if Honda has force. Eventually, the inevitable happens, and the its way. The Japanese corporation's robot division is working robots declare war on the human race. steadily to "create a partner for people, a new kind of robot that functions in society." Over the past few years, Honda has Rules for Robots developed a series of robots: the oldest in the family is P1, The science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) which came out in 1993, and the latest addition is ASIMO. believed that for humans and robots to exist together peacefully, there had to be a set of laws for robots that ASIMO looks a little like a 10-year-old in an astronaut's suit. It would prevent them from causing harm to humans. weighs about 110 pounds and stands four feet tall. "ASIMO will truly be able to help people in the 21st century," says So, in 1950, in a collection of stories titled I, Robot, Honda, adding that its "dream is that ASIMO will help improve Asimov published his Three Laws of Robotics: life in human society." A commercial for ASIMO describes how the little robot will be able to respond to simple voice commands, recognize faces, carry loads, and push carts — so 1. A Robot may not injure a human being or, through one day, it might be able to assist the elderly and help with inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. household tasks. 2. A Robot must obey the orders given it by human For the time being, ASIMO is only available for high-profile beings except where such orders would conflict with tasks: earlier this month it rang the opening bell at the New the First Law. York Stock Exchange. Japanese businesses can rent ASIMO, but the rest of us will have to wait a while before such service 3. A Robot must protect its own existence as long as robots are available for sale. Sony's SDR-4X, on the other such protection does not conflict with the First Law. hand, will hit the stores later this year (if you're willing to pay the price — it costs about the same as a luxury car). The dog- like robot, Aibo, is a little more reasonably priced: the most sophisticated model runs at around $1500. Sony has already sold thousands of them. It's a Robot's World Whether for entertainment or service purposes, Sony and Honda's robot divisions have been dealing with the same technical challenges: how to get a robot to see, hear, walk, climb stairs, dodge obstacles, and pick itself up if it falls over. It's a long list and it highlights just how complex humans are — all of our capabilities are difficult to replicate in a machine. Engineers are making progress, though. Robots have come a long way since the first simple models were developed for industrial use in the 1950s and 1960s. The robotics industry really took off following the development of the microchip in the 1970s, which allowed for making the "brains" of robots smaller and less expensive. Between 1980 and 1996, the number of robots per 10,000 workers in the manufacturing industry grew from 8 to 265 in Japan, from 2 to 79 in Germany, and from 3 to 38 in the United States. Number of Robots in Industrialized Countries (per 10,000 workers) Country 1980 1996 % increase Japan 8 265 Germany 2 79 United States 3 38 The figures are still increasing. According to the Handbook of Industrial Robotics, the number of robots in the United States almost doubled in the 1990s, with robots doing an increasing number of diverse jobs: Performing tasks in surgery: In January of this Work It Out year, the United States' first robot-assisted coronary Another of Honda's robot prototypes, P3, is built to artery bypass was carried out. Usually, a coronary closely resemble the dimensions and design of the bypass requires that a ten-inch incision be made in a human body. P3 is 62.9 inches (160 centimeters) tall patient's chest. But with the robot, only three and weighs in at 286 pounds (130 kilograms). It has a keyhole-sized holes are made between the ribs. shoulder span of 23.6 inches (60 cm). Through these holes, two robotic arms and a tiny camera access the heart. Because such small How does P3 compare to your own height? What about incisions are made in the chest, the patient makes a your weight? Work out what percentage of your height much quicker recovery. and weight P3 has. Working in space: NASA's space shuttles are fitted with robotic arms. Earlier this month, space shuttle P3's "skeleton" is made of the metal magnesium, Columbia's robot arm assisted with repairs to the which has less than a quarter the density of steel. An Hubble Space Telescope. NASA is also developing object that weighs 15 pounds (6.8 kg) when made "Robonaut," a robot that will accompany astronauts from magnesium would weigh 70 pounds (31.8 kg) if it on space expeditions and perform tasks that might were made from steel. prove dangerous for the astronauts. Also in the works are tiny robot insects that will allow exploration of previously inaccessible areas on other If a given object weighs 100 pounds when made of planets. magnesium, work out the approximate weight of the same object if it were made of steel. Defusing bombs: Police regularly use robots in place of humans to defuse bombs and to enter danger zones. More Links In news announced last week, the first human cyborg — part man, part machine — was created. Read more from CNN.com. Becoming "man's best friend": Sony's AIBO (Artificial Intelligence Robot) robot puppies are Visit the official Asimo and P3 Web site from Honda. programmed to imitate the behavior of real dogs. You can also visit the Robodex 2002 Web site. (But they won't chew your slippers!) Design your own robot, courtesy of the Computer Museum. (Requires Shockwave. Download now.) Learn more about how the invention of the microchip launched robot technology. Find out more about NASA's space-robot, Robonaut, in this article from CNN.com. Meet Kismet, an "emotional" robot developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Artificial Intelligence laboratory. The Steven Spielberg movie A.I. features thinking Thinking Machines robots. Despite their sophistication, the heart-surgery robot, Robonaut, and ASIMO all lack a fundamental human capacity: the ability to think, make decisions, and be creative. Artificial intelligence (AI) is the term used to describe this capacity for a computer or a robot to imitate the thinking and decision- making capabilities of the human mind. Scientists at the AI Laboratory at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are working on several projects that aim to create robots that think and behave like humans. One of those projects is known as Cog (short for "cognition"). The Cog engineers are striving to build a robot that learns behavior in the same way a child does. By interacting with its surroundings, Cog learns simple behavior patterns — it has already mastered hand-eye coordination skills (it can reach out to something that it sees), and it can nod and shake its head in imitation of its caretakers. It can also play with a Slinky®. Professor Rodney Brooks, the director of MIT's AI laboratory says that the goal of the project is to produce "a thinking robot. If we are successful, there may not be a place for humans in the future."
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