Growing up I always thought of robots as the creations of evil villains, all dead set on the destruction of the world. Where would I get such an idea? That big, mysterious metal thing in The Day the Earth Stood Still kept me awake nights. Dr. Smith’s silly robot on Lost in Space wanted to be good in spite of his creator’s evil intentions. In the 1921 play R.U.R. (short for Rosum’s Universal Robots) by Karl Capek, humanoid robots — again, evil — take over the world. Incidentally, playwright Kapek coined the word “robot,” which in Czech means “forced labor.”
You’ll want to come back to that one.
Those were characters, the products of creative minds — fictional robots. Today’s non-fiction, real life robots are mostly not trying to take over the world, nor have they been created by Dr. Evils. Most recent developments in robotics have totally benevolent purposes.
Some of the famous Robots are:
Robbie, Rosie, Klaatu, R2D2 and C3PO!
Real robots do simple household chores. Working alone or together with humans, they also build intricate machines like cars and computers. And you can sleep easier knowing that new robots keep a constant lookout for danger, while others venture into dangerous or hard to get to places where humans can’t or shouldn’t risk going. Today’s robots are all intended for good works. Saving lives, improving quality of life, saving time, saving money, fighting our wars, cleaning our floors and having our coffee ready when we wake up.
Although pretty much all of the grainy black-and-white pot boilers of the 50s portrayed robots as humanoid and vicious, a popular TV show from that era – and a blockbuster movie that came along a few years later – changed how we think of robots. The movie was of course Star Wars, with R2D2 and C3PO leading the parade of metallic movie creatures designed to do good for mankind.
Although The Jetsons was born in the 50s, when it comes to seeing the future of robots, The Jetsons is the hands down winner. Since it’s fiction, and a cartoon, the Jetson family robots have individual personalities and quirks, but they were still there to make life simpler – cleaning, cooking, clothing care, office work – like a dream that seems to be coming true.
You may ask: What exactly is a robot? The Merriam Webster Dictionary offers three basic definitions:
1. a. A machine that looks like a human being and performs various complex acts (such as walking or talking) of a human being; also. a similar but fictional machine whose lack of capacity for human emotions is often emphasized; b. an efficient insensitive person who functions automatically; (we all know at least one)
2. A device that automatically performs complicated and often repetitive tasks;
3. A mechanism guided by automatic controls.
However you choose to define a robot, you know they’re here to stay when respected universities offer robotics as a field of study.
Each year, there are more robotics design and engineering programs opening at colleges, universities and even junior colleges.
The list of the top programs is impressive, with Cal Tech, Carnegie Mellon and Colombia.
So, with all these creative robot nerds emerging with big ideas, just exactly what does the future hold?
Inventor Ted Chavalas has a good track record for having his finger on the pulse of the technological present and a crystal ball into its future. His original Panoscan MK-1 digital panoramic camera was designed with an image size capacity too large to be opened by any but the largest computers that were around in 1997; and dial-up Internet cowered at the prospect of transporting those 500 megapixel images across the web (fortunately Broadband caught up with Chavalas). Now he is introducing The Ferret, through Panoscan’s General Robotics division. This is from the company’s 100-word publicity blurb:
The Ferret is a remotely controlled camera robot, designed specifically for under vehicle inspection. Low profile, circular design, and movable lights and camera, allow The Ferret to move under any vehicle – sports cars to big rigs, night or day, to “ferret” out explosives, contraband, critical damage or leaks. With an offset range of 300 meters, The Ferret is the ideal “first robot in” for a wide range of security and preventative maintenance inspections.
* Your dishwasher is a robot for washing dishes.
* Your washing machine is a robot for cleaning laundry.
* When you call UPS or FedEx you speak with a robot.
* The new iPhone 4S has Siri (another very smart robot).
* When your car gets dirty you can drive it to a robotic car wash.
* Every time you mail a letter it is sorted and routed by robots.
* When you go to the grocery store and buy processed foods they are prepared by robots.