Robots: The good, the bad and the ugly

Do they help or do they hinder, and where are the worlds of robotics and artificial intelligence headed?

"In this research we aim at the realisation of the robot which can manipulate dynamic changing objects. As a first step, we have developed a throwing and batting robot system and achieved the high-speed continuous motion," the lab claims on its website.

It's created one of the fastest robots, we've ever seen. Take a look at the video below to find out just how fast that is.

Mind the gap

It's clear that the gap between humans and machines has already narrowed somewhat. That looks likely to accelerate between now and 2050, according to Intel's chief technology officer Justin Rattner who made a bold prediction at last year's Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco.

"The industry has taken much greater strides than anyone ever imagined 40 years ago. There is speculation that we may be approaching an inflection point where the rate of technology advancements is accelerating at an exponential rate, and machines could even overtake humans in their ability to reason, in the not so distant future," he told conference attendees.

But we're not there yet. Indeed, the technology involved needs to become more flexible, according to Robert Parker, group vice president of research from IDC's manufacturing insights arm.

"Factory robots are very good at doing something repetitive at a high, consistent quality. New robotics will be more flexible thanks to better self-awareness - better data acquisition, MEMS, vision systems, and intelligence. There is a pilot going on right now for a robotic system that can harvest fruit in an orchard. The mobility system can navigate the orchard and the vision systems can evaluate how ripe the fruit is (should I pick this). The people involved with the project believe they can lower the cost of a harvest by 35 per cent which is substantial considering the low wages of migrant workers doing the job today," he said.

"In 20 years, an industrial robot will be able to continuously evaluate (self awareness) the current circumstances, adjust its tooling and methods (self adjustment), and rewrite its operating software to improve its performance (self optimisation). They will be much smaller (nanobots) and modular Generally, the level of sophistication is amazing (especially work in Japan), but the mechanics/micro electronics continue to outpace the intelligence. Definitely hardware ahead of software when it comes to consumer robots."

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