The Future Of Robotics Comes To Silicon Valley
SAN JOSE, Calif. Oct. 25, 2007 - KGO -- The cartoon "The Jetsons" gave us a make believe look at how well robots could work to simplify our lives. Now that futuristic vision may be close to reality.
The challenge for these computer scientists and engineers is to take robotics to the next level. They're taking the pulse of what's being developed at a robot development conference.
Sure there are robots on auto production lines, in the operating room and making computer chips.
"So we have robots performing human functions today. I think what we're starting to see now is robots in our everyday life where they're helping us with what we're doing," said Kamran Shah from National Instruments.
That's what Anybots has been working on for six years. Based in Mountain View, it was showing off a robot named Monty and one named Dexter that has legs and feet, instead of wheels.
A human is still at the controls, and control isn't perfect.
"It's hard. It takes a lot of practice, and we still drop things all the time. And so, yeah, we're trying to figure out how to make that easy," said Anybots Founder & CEO Trevor Blackwell, Ph.D.
So the new frontier is artificial intelligence -- getting a robot to think and respond on its own.
Robots will need to know how to interact with people and even animals to operate safely around our homes.
"Imagine a robotic lawn mower. The important thing is that it stops when a child runs on or a dog runs on the lawn. If they get close to it, you don't want that thing hurting them," said Willow Garage President & CEO Steve Cousins Ph.D.
Cousins' company, Willow Garage, is focusing on building robotic platforms to free up developers to concentrate on software.
Others are specializing in robotic hands; robotic hands have four fingers. Why? The pinky isn't that useful and adds 20-percent to the price.
How long will it be before these robots begin appearing in our homes? Some experts here are predicting 15 years; some say it could happen within five.
Japan has produced some of the most promising robots, but Americans are determined to catch up and take the lead.
A robot called Kismet, designed by MIT, acts almost human-like and Silicon Valley innovators are hard at work, too.
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