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By Antonio Espinga...

Living with robots... Are you ..


As a kid, I was always fascinated by science fiction and machines in general, whether computers, rally cars or motorbikes etc. I even used to draw cartoons and make up stories about them, such was my love! My mother used to send my drawings to her friends so there is probably a lot of incriminating evidence out there.

Studying science at school led me to studying for a Bachelor in Industrial Informatics Engineering at University. It was during this time when I started further developing my interest in robotics. My real passion in this area is focusing on future robotics applications and how to make these available to the public.

I predict that in 20 years or fewer robotics will be fully integrated in society, performing everyday domestic functions like ironing, hoovering, shopping for you and much more.

Personal robots can be seen as a mixture of technological disciplines integrated into a number of devices that can perform tasks such as assisting and entertaining humans in a wide range of activities. It’s an applied science that opens new paths for new ways of thinking and behaving. Governments around the world have already expressed their concerns about the lack of solutions/support for dealing with the aging phenomenon (e.g. shortage of facilities or human and financial resources to deal with the elderly groups). The paradigm is not only related to our longer life expectations, but mostly to the guarantee of dignity, mental activity and physical occupation through the aging process.

South Korea seems to have found a solution for the problem and manufacturers intend to start commercialising robots in every household by 2020 [1]. In Europe there’s already research going on in this area and a French prototype “Kompai” from Robosoft points the direction.

This personal robot can recognise human voice commands and answers at a basic level (either with actions or speech). It can act as a personal assistant for tasks such as updating the shopping list, reminding users to take pills, sending emails and even recognising serious illness. Also in the United States a research group entitled “Willow Garage” is developing the first open source robotic operating system (ROS) and working towards a prototype entitled “PR2” which can detect and grasp objects in different environments or even play snooker against humans.

The future seems promising with these types of achievements, making Human Robotics Interaction (HRI) seem inevitable. Apart from the level of Artificial Intelligence (AI) that machines will display, it’s likely that humans will gradually develop a new kind of relationship with robots (different from normal computers). From an ethical point of view we have to work towards a synergetic behaviour between humans and machines. Computers and robots are good at processing large amounts of data and uncovering numerous possibilities but humans are at the top of hierarchy when it comes to conscience and moral obligations. History tells us that a common human error is to deal with a problem only when it happens.

The first decade of the 21st century can be remembered as the beginning of a digital era, a time where computers, the internet and communications became part of our daily lives, boosted economies, helped us in our jobs but also encompassed problems associated with privacy (e.g. social networks), copyrighted peer to peer downloads and internet scams. We now have the opportunity to look at the best ways to explore the full potential of robotics technologies and how it can positively influence the next few generations.

About Antonio Espingardeiro

IEEE member and independent robotics researcher. Antonio completed his MSc in Robotics and Automation in March 2009 and is now working on his PhD. In the meantime, Antonio continues to conduct independent research into the field of robotics. The research aims to address problems such as the ethics associated with healthcare robots and the management policies for implementing these devices into future societies. In the future Antonio hopes to become a robotics and automation manager to provide robotic technology for the benefit of human healthcare.
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