The Truth About Robots

We think we know a lot about robots, don’t we?

I mean, it’s not like robots, or “smart” technology, is a new concept.  Technology is practically ubiquitous these days, not to mention the fact that robots have been an iconic figure in science fiction stories for decades (at least).

Robotics play a part in everything from industry to medical innovation to house maintenance.  There are refrigerators with more self awareness than some people.  And yet, how much do we really know about these lean, mean, metal machines?  Turns out, not as much as we’d like to believe.

This is where DARPA comes in. 

The DARPA Robotics Challenge started in 2012 as an answer to a problem that was, unfortunately, a little too late.

“A disaster then occurred in Japan at Fukushima, and DARPA sent versions of the older robots it had developed before,” explains Gill Pratt, DARPA Robotics Challenge program manager.

“We sent everything that we had that we thought could be useful.  And still, it really wasn’t enough to have the kind of impact we wanted.”

The impact they were looking for was something more immediate.  They realized, quickly, that the whole issue of disaster response was trying to mitigate the disaster during the first few hours and days after the event.

Unfortunately, the robots we have at this point aren’t quite so quick-on-the-draw.

“We’re not anywhere near being able to have a robot be even as intelligent as a very smart dog, for instance.  We’re at the level of the robot being maybe as smart as an ant,” Gill explains.

“So, when we have all these science-fiction notions of what robots are going to be like, we have to temper them with the reality that we don’t know how to make them intelligent enough to do sophisticated tasks.”

Tasks like putting out fires.  Walking over rubble.  Breaking through walls.  Eventually, the goal is to have machines that can respond quickly to a disaster, go where humans cannot safely go and work in conjunction with their human counterparts to complete the mission and save lives.

To make all that happen, you have to know THE TRUTH ABOUT ROBOTS.

The DARPA Robotics Challenge comes to a close December of 2014.  This is just the first step in the progression of what I suspect to be the robot/human integration era.  While we can’t predict most disasters, we can take steps to make the technology we use better, faster and stronger.

And when it comes to the future of robotics, it’s all walking uphill from here. 

Jessica L. Tozer is a blogger for DoDLive and Armed with Science.  She is an Army veteran and an avid science fiction fan, both of which contribute to her enthusiasm for science and technology in the military.

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