Saturday, November 7, 2009

When are the robots coming?

Where are the robots? I've heard they're more common in Japan, but at least in America you don't see many robots. When a building is going up, I see humans swinging hammers. When a truck's being unloaded, men are carrying the cases. Are we uninterested in replacing workers with more machines? Is the technology not ready yet?

I'm inclined to feel that the latter is a big part of the problem. Vision is a difficult problem. Humans have remarkable dexterity using their hands. And the current generation of robots are extremely specialized. There was a wave of automation in the 80's and 90's on factory floors and warehouses. After installing multi-million dollars, the warehouses found that any minor change in layout of the factory floor could break the system. Businesses unable to change rarely thrive.

In every direction, you see obstacles to successful robots. Vision, speech, planning, object manipulation, adaption: none of these problems have been mastered yet. But despite this, I think we're very close to a robotics boom.

The key is that these problems are being solved in parallel. We don't have perfect image recognition yet, but as we get closer, any robot can benefit. Researchers are closing the gaps on each problem, and in a very short span of time we may go from all these problems being insurmountable to none of them being so. And once the researchers have solved the problems, the engineers and designers will put the pieces together and make the technology accessible; and countless entrepreneurs will start replacing everyone. Expect to start seeing robots frequently by 2020.

1 comment:

  1. At the same time, robots are asking "Where are the humans?", but that's because of their vision problem.