When Robots Attack, er, I Mean Help You

The future of robotics is entering the present. As an Engineer and Computer Scientist finishing up school I have had an increasing interest in the technology behind robotics and artificial intelligence.

DARPA Challenge – Robocars

I recently read up on the DARPA challenge, an autonomous vehicle challenge where teams build real cars capable of navigating the course setup for the competition without the aid of any human presence. This isn’t your standard remote vehicle operation, but instead the vehicles have brains (computers and software) which perform all functions such as acceleration, braking, navigating, etc. fully autonomously. The major feat of the most recent competition is that six of the contestants actually finished the race. This is a huge step in the field of robotics and control systems. It is something I’d love to work on myself.

Wired Report on the DARPA Challenge
Driverless Cars

RoboCup’s Urban Search and Rescue (USAR)

Good Samaritan (CSU)

For my senior design project we attempted to create a robot that could navigate a disaster arena according to the rules for the RoboCup USAR competition. The goal of this competition is to develop robots that can search for victims in a building collapse or other disaster while mapping out the area as it searches. This would enable the rescuers to know exactly where to dig, or remove large amounts of debris. Studies have shown that 90% of rescuers time is spent searching for the victims, while only 10% of the time is actually used to get the victims to safety. This is the reason for the interest in these types of robots. The ultimate goal for the robots is to become fully autonomous while being able to relay video and other information such as states of victims and the surroundings back to a control center.


Along with this competition is a robotic soccer competition which is the reason the organization created this competition. This is their mission as stated on their homepage: “By the year 2050, develop a team of fully autonomous humanoid robots that can win against the human world soccer champion team.” It might seem like a daunting task since it’s well known among the robotic community that imitation of the human form is much more difficult than just designing the best possible form and capabilities. However, there’s something intriguing to me with developing something from scratch that could play in the same league of a sport as the world champions.

Doctor Doctor – RoboDoc
In the near future mechanical robotic arms and tools might be used to work on you during surgery.

There is some fear of using the internet which is amazingly robust, but still highly problematic in connection quality and guarantees. Especially in crucial situations such as performing a surgery where even a 30 second connection loss could be fatal. I’m not sure how long it will be before risky surgery or even anything related to health that has any very short term risks will be common place. However, for diagnostic checkups, non-invasive surgery, as well as assisting roles will probably be conducted in the near future, and in fact are currently being tried in a number of hospitals in North America.

So far this remote presence is mostly restricted to allowing doctors to check up on lab work, performing diagnostic activities, communicating with patients, and watch over surgeries and other labs. I’m excited to see where this is heading, even though many feel that this borders on creepy. It is only going to get more “creepy” because it will become increasingly difficult to understand especially as nano-technology including nano-bots enter into the mix.
Detroit hospital rolls out robotic “doctors”
Robotic doctor marks breakthrough

The Other Robot Overlords
The Roombot – A sort of silly device to be discussing, since it does not work very well yet, but I thought it would be fun to research and think up some ideas on robotics entering our lives in the near future.

ASIMO – This humanoid robot can walk, talk, understand gestures, climb stairs, and even run (albeit slowly) just like a human. It has the shape of a human in a space suit. It is quite fun to see in action.

Killer Robots from Silicon Valley – Soon these robots will replace the front lines, or soldiers on guard duty. Just hope that these robots will understand and have the knowledge to not shoot our own troops, innocent people, nor our allies.


ExoSkeleton – Do you want to have super-strength? I know I would. Well the Sarcos‘ robotic system will allow you to life more weight than you could possibly lift. It could help you run faster, jump higher, and perform similar human functions with extraordinary ease and endurance.

Lego’s Mindstorm – These legos come to life with the use of a computer chip, sensors, and actuators. I used to love playing with legos and even had the set we used in school which was the earliest form of this modern product. I used battery powered motors along with the standard legos, gears, and a few other simple devices in order to create mechanical models that could move. No there is a computer brain, sensors, and even an SDK and easy programming environment to enable a “sky is the limit” toy.