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 are becoming a reality in our daily life

by Timothy Georgi

 Projecting Growth of Robots

Today, the global robot sector is worth $11 billion.  According to the Japan Robot Association, the figure will double by 2010.  Growth has mainly been due to industrial robotic applications. Installations in North America were reported at 15,170 in 2004 with an increase to 21,136 in 2005, according to the  International Federation of Robots (IRF). However, new installations of  robots for industrial applications are expected to decline to 19,100 by 2009.  (See chart on New Installation of Robots.) One of the reasons for the decline in North America relates to the already high-investments made in automation in robotic  automotive manufacturing earlier in the 21st century.
According to estimates made by the Japan Robot Association, the robot sector was worth $11 billion in 2007.  By 2010, this number will double and then will triple  2025.

The nonindustrial sectors are now showing the biggest robotic  growth in such areas such as toys, transportation, health and senior care. Sales of  robots in the domestic entertainment and leisure applications are forecasted to be 5.6 million in a period from 2006 to 2009, according to the IFR.

 Nonhumanoid Robots

Why do many scientists in the United States prefer to design  nonhumanoid robots rather than humanoids? The nonhumanoids  are simpler in design, perform better with less parts, and  are cheaper to create.  Each is engineered   with specific “behaviors”  to perform a designated task. For example, some can “walk” with several legs; others move about on wheels or complete their assignments with treads.
A non-humanoid urban search and rescue robot moves across a rubble pile in a recent NIST/DHS exercise. ( The photo is courtesy of NIST.)

Some robotic specialists say that if the humanoid robots look ‘too human’ there may be a potential for abuse. “Robots need to be designed so that they will be regarded as appliances rather than as people,” notes  John McCarthy of Stanford University. Realistic faces on  the robots may cause people to feel very uncomfortable which then  results in a negative response toward the robots, thus decreasing the acceptance of the devices and their usefulness.

Machines for Special  Applications

Even nonhumanoid robots are very complex “beings.” Each robot is created for the specific task it needs to complete.  For a robot to walk on two legs, it  needs a lot of AI (Artificial Intelligence) computing power. Scientists can make eyes for the robot, but because  much is not known  about how the eye-brain perception works, sight is implemented  by   using cameras within the robot. In order for the robot to sense the presence and location of objects, specialized software needs to be implemented so that the robot  will have a delicate sense of touch. Each robot is created individually and only needs the “senses and capabilities” that are required for a specific task.
The number of industrial robots seem to have  peaked in the first decade of this century. Current thinking in business circles promotes greater automation to increase productivity. This requirement should re-stimulate industrial robots going forward. (Credit for data: International Federation for Robots)

Robots for Kids

For the kids to understand the construction of robots there are numerous kits. For example at the Elementary level, Lego® Mindstorms ™ and PicoCricket are popular. For the Middle schoolers:  Vex kit and Parallax Boe-bot® are two favorites.Advanced high  school level students seem to enjoy iRobot Create™. The key in these programs is to build the platform and learn basics of scientific principles and programming in an enjoyable setting.
Sparky® (Yellow Pumper ) is another teaching tool  for fire safety. Robotronics has built this educational toy. (The photo is courtesy of Robotronics.)

Although robotic toys can just be basic fun for children to build and operate, there is a strong educational component to have students work with them in the classroom and extra circular activities. Robin Shoop, director of the Robotics Academy at Carnegie Mellon notes that robotics is the fourth “R” in addition to reading, writing and arithmetic. “Using robotics to get kids interested in math and science is far more exciting than the traditional math and science problems.” (Quote is from “Robots to teach math, science to children” by Tim Grant, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 08/10/2008.)

Sparky ®, the popular robot used to tech fire safety,  is powered by batteries that are sealed, maintenance-free, gelled, lead acid  (12 Volt, 31 AH) and are rechargeable. Its radio control transmitter uses a rechargeable, Ni-MH battery pack. Both batteries comes with their own charger.

Sparky® is a trademark of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). The robot (Sparky®) was built by Robotronics.

Medical Robots
In the medical field there have been a lot of new developments with robots. One of the robots is Paro which was developed in Japan but could be used in health care in the United States. Paro resembles a real therapeutic dog but it is a robot. Paro has fur and can respond to human touch. This robot was developed for people who often need institutional care. Because the robot sells for about $10,000, it most likely would be purchased by special care facilities. The elderly, Alzheimer’s patients, and children with autism might benefit from interaction with Paro.

Surgical robots in the U.S. have been highly visible. There is a robot called daVinci® which can do bypass surgery. It was developed by Intuitive Surgical, Inc.(ISRG). In one application, the on-site surgeon makes a four one-centimeter incision so the robot can go in and replicate the movement of the surgeon’s hands with tips of micro instruments to perform the bypass surgery with the help of another surgeon at the control station. On May 4, 2007 a physician in London, Ontario used this robot technology and performed a coronary artery bypass surgery without opening the patient’s chest.

The daVinci® has proved to be a great asset to surgeons but requires a large investment. The average base cost of a System is $1.5 million.
The da Vinci ®, Surgical Robot System is named after Leonardo da Vinci who created a design for a humanoid robot around 1495.The surgical robot  allows for improved  techniques with 3D  visualization and precision. It  allows access to surgical sites with less peripheral intervention. For example, Dr. Mani Menon, M.D., Director of the Vattikuti Urology Institute, Henry Ford Health System, said, “In my experience, robotics (such as the da Vinci) allows for greater surgical precision which leads to improvements in cancer control, potency and urinary function.”

In an interview with CBS News on July 18, 2007, Dr. Rajni Patel, chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Western Ontario, made this statement to reporter Peter Hadzipetros. “The robotic systems used for surgery are teleoperated or ‘master-slave’ systems where the surgeon sits at a console and manipulates the surgical computer control.” Because of today’s advances in telesurgery, robotic systems can be used  over  long distances. (© 2008 Intuitive Surgical, Inc.)

The battery in the da Vinci S Patient Cart has two main purposes: 1. It provides power for patient cart motor drive when not plugged in. 2. If there is a loss of power during surgery, the battery backup is intended for the safe removal of system components from the patient. According to Nora Distefano of ISRG, the battery pack consists of two 16Amp-hour, 12VDC lead acid gel cell batteries (Hawker Energy Product, G16EP), connected in series to provide a nominal 24VDC.  Each lead acid gel cell battery has six internal cells to develop a morminal 12 Volts.

Patient care is also being investigated using robots. For example, Intouch Health builds a robot called RP7®. This television screen-like remote presence robot allows for doctors and nurses to monitor a patient from a remote site and still provide physician-patient interactions. The Nursing Institute headquartered at Wright State was the first nurse education center in the nation to use the RP7 for educational purposes. (Press release, June, 2007) In November of 2007, the U of L Health Care in Kentucky announced it will provide support to outlying hospitals in a remote presence robotic network.

Robots for Farming

Today, the agricultural industry depends on immigrants to harvest many fruits and vegetables. However, technology is being created to change this pattern.Vision Robotics is one company working on two robots that can replace the immigrant workers. The first robot is called the “Scout” and the second robot is called the “Harvester.”
 The Harvester is one part of a two robot team which picks oranges. Needs exceeding migrant worker supply put this type of  robot in high demand. The picker should be available in two to four years.  ( The photo is courtesy of Vision Robotics.)

The Scout uses image sensors to map out and plan the harvesting. In order for Scout to do this, a process called Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) is needed. Scout actually maps and plans which oranges are to be picked. It sends the data about the map and plan to the Harvester which will select and pick the designated oranges.

The Harvester picks the oranges on either side of each row with eight long reticulating arms. The Harvester can pick one orange roughly every 2.5 seconds with each of its eight “hands.”

Although these robots are still in the development stage, they should be available in two to four years at a price tag of $500,000. The initial cost can be amortized over several years to make the investment an economic value. Machines could be also be purchased cooperatively or leased.

Robots in Space
NASA has used robots for years and is the leader in robot technology. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has helped  NASA to make this possible. With 100 engineers working on all aspects of the robotics of space exploration and related terrestrial applications,  JPL wrote the autonomy software that drove the rover on Mars, and the operating software to monitor and control them from Earth.

The Mars Global Surveyor is a US spacecraft developed by NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It was launched in November 1996. On Sept 11, 1997 the spacecraft began orbiting Mars. The original plan was to examine the planet for one Mars year, nearly two Earth years, then return to Earth.

The above Mosaic of 46 images taken by the robot ‘Opportunity’ of Burns Cliff which is part of the inner wall of ‘Endurance Crater’ on Mars was taken on November 13 to 20, 2004. Since the robot ‘Opportunity’ can  not take its own picture, a sparate image of the robot was placed by artists on the right sidein the proper scale.

Opportunity is one of two robots launched in 2003 on two seperate rockets. Their purpose was to take terrain photos with hopes of finding evidence of pre-existing water. The  robots did find evidence of water erosion.

Both ‘Opportunity’ and ‘Spirit’ are still operating in far distant areas on Mars’ surface. NASA is building a replacement mission called the ‘Mars Science Laboratory Mission’ (MSL) with much a larger robot. The MSL project has serious cost overruns. It cost $20 million a year to operate ‘Opportunity’ and ‘Spirit’. To reduce operating costs a recently recinded directive would have one robot put in a state of hybernation and reduced activity of the other. No alternatives to make up the needed $16 million have yet been identifed.

But even with careful design and implementation problems can arise. The Mars Global Surveyor was going to start its third mission phase when it lost contact with NASA in November 2006 in an attempt to maintain proper temperatures by moving the solar array away from the sun line. An alarm indicated that one array drive was stuck and rotating freely on redundant hardware “ but gave no indication the mission was in immediate danger,” the report explained. A Lockheed Martin spacecraft engineer determined that someone uploading commands to update positioning in the High Gain Antenna’s positioning for contingency operations wrote the information to the wrong memory address in the Mars Global Surveyor’s onboard computer. The ‘corrupted’ upload happened, according to report, because two previous updates conflicted with the new information. Programmers tried to fix the discrepancy, but the antenna rotated the wrong way and the batteries were exposed to the sun causing overheating which ultimately depleted the batteries, most likely in 12 hours.  

Even though the the Surveyor ended earlier than expected, NASA’s lead scientist Michael Meyer noted that it was the most productive science mission to Mars. One major  finding included “dramatic exidence that water still flows in short pursts down hillside gullies, and identification of deposits of water- related minerals leading to selection of a Mars rover landing site.” (Press realese by JPL and NASA 04113/2007)

Robot Wins Award at CES 2008


Although there were robotic toys, vacuum cleaners and floor scrubbers at CES, a robotic guitar caught the most attention. The Gibson Robot Guitar received and award, “Best of Show.”

The Gibson Robot Guitar is the first production instrument offering robotic ability for self and preset selected tuning. (Photo is courtesy of Gibson.)

The Gibson Guitar is the first guitar to have robot self-tuning technology  which will eliminate tuning problems for the artists. This  guitar will automatically tune to a standard A (tone 440 hz) and will also allow players to access six commonly used altered tuning presets at a push of a button. The technology also makes string changes an automated process.  A Master Control Knob  operates and controls functionality in 11 different positions with the Powerhead-locking tuners. As these motorized tuners adjust the pitch of the strings, they are monitored by means of a Tune-Control Bridge.

Celebrating Robots

Sparky® the Fire Dog is a robot that is best-known in fire prevention today. Sparky teaches kids about fire safety. Sparky can turn his head and move his eyes and eyelids. He also has a emergency light and a siren. Sparky can drive his firetruck around the room, carrying on conversations and playing music all by remote control.        ( The photo is courtesy of Robotronics.)

With growing needs for both high tech and high volume  services,  the technology  of  today is focusing more on the development of robots. For a  number of years, the United States has been using robots in manufacturing plants. Japan, the world leader in humanoid robot research, is driven by a need to support its aging population with electromechanical servants. Today, there are new developments focusing on making  robots that can work on  farms and provide services in health care. Because students are now growing up in an environment where robots are beginning to interact in their daily activities, these young people may be the first generation to use robots at home, at work, and for transportation and receation as part of their everday life.