Robots: Friend or foe?

For the Japanese, robots are integrated into their life, and they view them in a friendly and accepting manner. Not so with Americans, whose Terminator- like visions of robotic destruction fill the movie screens, while author Vernor Vinge’s Singularity looks to the changes in mankind when a threshold of AI is passed.

Actroid DER2 fembot – Introduction

Here is Japan’s take on robotics and it’s uses, and how they interact with them on a daily basis, from Technology, updated 1:55 a.m. EST, Mon March 3, 2008:

Robots enter Japan’s daily life

TOKYO, Japan (AP) — “At a university lab in a Tokyo suburb, engineering students are wiring a rubbery robot face to simulate six basic expressions: anger, fear, sadness, happiness, surprise and disgust.


A “toddler robot” called “Child-Robot with a Biomimetic Body,” or “CB2,” looks around the room.

Hooked up to a database of words clustered by association, the robot — dubbed Kansei, or “sensibility” — responds to the word “war” by quivering in what looks like disgust and fear. It hears “love,” and its pink lips smile.

“To live among people, robots need to handle complex social tasks,” said project leader Junichi Takeno of Meiji University. “Robots will need to work with emotions, to understand and eventually feel them.

While robots are a long way from matching human emotional complexity, the country is perhaps the closest to a future — once the stuff of science fiction — where humans and intelligent robots routinely live side by side and interact socially.

Robots are already taken for granted in Japanese factories, so much so that they are sometimes welcomed on their first day at work with Shinto religious ceremonies. Robots make sushi. Robots plant rice and tend paddies.

There are robots serving as receptionists, vacuuming office corridors, spoon-feeding the elderly. They serve tea, greet company guests and chatter away at public technology displays. Now startups are marching out robotic home helpers.

They aren’t all humanoid. The Paro is a furry robot seal fitted with sensors beneath its fur and whiskers, designed to comfort the lonely, opening and closing its eyes and moving its flippers.

INSERT – “Located on the 2nd floor in Kansai airport (Japan) is Paro, the therapeutic robot seal! Because real animals are not allowed in hospitals and nursing homes, Paro was created as a substitute. Touch it, stroke it and see how it responds 🙂 Only in Japan…! (May 3, 07)”

Paro, the World’s Most Therapeutic Robot!

For Japan, the robotics revolution is an imperative. With more than a fifth of the population 65 or older, the country is banking on robots to replenish the work force and care for the elderly.

In the past several years, the government has funded a plethora of robotics-related efforts. They include some $42 million for the first phase of a humanoid robotics project, and $10 million a year between 2006 and 2010 to develop key robot technologies.

The government estimates the industry could surge from about $5.2 billion in 2006 to $26 billion in 2010 and nearly $70 billion by 2025.

Besides financial and technological power, the robot wave is favored by the Japanese mind-set as well.

Robots have long been portrayed as friendly helpers in Japanese popular culture, a far cry from the often rebellious and violent machines that often inhabit Western science fiction.

This is, after all, the country that invented Tamagotchi, the hand-held mechanical pets that captivated the children of the world.

Japanese are also more accepting of robots because the native Shinto religion often blurs boundaries between the animate and inanimate, experts say. To the Japanese psyche, the idea of a humanoid robot with feelings doesn’t feel as creepy — or as threatening — as it might do in other cultures.

Still, Japan faces a vast challenge in making the leap — commercially and culturally — from toys, gimmicks and the experimental robots churned out by labs like Takeno’s to full-blown human replacements that ordinary people can afford and use safely.

“People are still asking whether people really want robots running around their homes, and folding their clothes,” said Damian Thong, senior technology analyst at Macquarie Bank in Tokyo.

“But then again, Japan’s the only country in the world where everyone has an electric toilet,” he said. “We could be looking at a robotics revolution.”

INSERT: Japan Trip: Electric Toilet:

That revolution has been going on quietly for some time.

Japan is already an industrial robot powerhouse. Over 370,000 robots worked at factories across Japan in 2005, about 40 percent of the global total and 32 robots for every 1,000 Japanese manufacturing employees, according to a recent report by Macquarie. It had no numbers from subsequent years.

And they won’t be claiming overtime or drawing pensions when they’re retired.

“The cost of machinery is going down, while labor costs are rising,” said Eimei Onaga, CEO of Innovation Matrix Inc., a company that distributes Japanese robotics technology in the U.S. “Soon, robots could even replace low-cost workers at small firms, greatly boosting productivity.”

That’s just what the Japanese government has been counting on. A 2007 national technology roadmap by the Trade Ministry calls for 1 million industrial robots to be installed throughout the country by 2025.

A single robot can replace about 10 employees, the roadmap assumes — meaning Japan’s future million-robot army of workers could take the place of 10 million humans. That’s about 15 percent of the current work force.

“Robots are the cornerstone of Japan’s international competitiveness,” Shunichi Uchiyama, the Trade Ministry’s chief of manufacturing industry policy, said at a recent seminar. “We expect robotics technology to enter even more sectors going forward.”

Meanwhile, localities looking to boost regional industry clusters have seized on robotics technology as a way to spur advances in other fields.

Robotic technology is used to build more complex cars, for instance, and surgical equipment.

The logical next step is robots in everyday life.

At a hospital in Aizu Wakamatsu, 190 miles north of Tokyo, a child-sized white and blue robot wheels across the floor, guiding patients to and from the outpatients’ surgery area.

The robot, made by startup Tmsuk, sports perky catlike ears, recites simple greetings, and uses sensors to detect and warn people in the way. It helpfully prints out maps of the hospital, and even checks the state of patients’ arteries.

The Aizu Chuo Hospital spent about some $557,000 installing three of the robots in its waiting rooms to test patients’ reactions. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, said spokesman Naoya Narita.

“We feel this is a good division of labor. Robots won’t ever become doctors, but they can be guides and receptionists,” Narita said.

Still, the wheeled machines hadn’t won over all seniors crowding the hospital waiting room on a weekday morning.

“It just told us to get out of the way!” huffed wheelchair-bound Hiroshi Asami, 81. “It’s a robot. It’s the one who should get out my way.”

“I prefer dealing with real people,” he said.

Another roadblock is money.

For all its research, Japan has yet to come up with a commercially successful consumer robot. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. failed to sell even one of its pricey toddler-sized Wakamaru robots, launched in 2003 as domestic helpers.

Though initially popular, Sony Corp. pulled the plug on its robot dog, Aibo, in 2006, just seven years after its launch. With a price tag of a whopping $2,000, Aibo never managed to break into the mass market.

One of the only commercially successful consumer robots so far is made by an American company, iRobot Corp. The Roomba vacuum cleaner robot is self-propelled and can clean rooms without supervision.

For Hiroshi Ishiguro, also at Osaka University, the key is to make robots that look like human beings. His Geminoid robot looks uncannily like himself — down to the black, wiry hair and slight tan.

INSERT: Dr. Ishiguro Greets via Geminoid

“In the end, we don’t want to interact with machines or computers. We want to interact with technology in a human way, so it’s natural and valid to try to make robots look like us,” he said.

“One day, they will live among us,” Ishiguro said. “Then you’d have to ask me: ‘Are you human? Or a robot?”‘

For the perhaps most visible robot to Americans:

Honda Develops Intelligence Technologies Enabling Multiple ASIMO Robots to Work Together in Coordination

Watch The Video (for a YouTube demo:)

TOKYO, Japan, December 11, 2007–”Honda Motor Co., Ltd. has further advanced intelligence technologies enabling its advanced humanoid robot ASIMO to act autonomously and perform uninterrupted service to office guests.

Two ASIMOs working together in coordination to deliver refreshments
Two ASIMOs working together in coordination to deliver refreshments

Honda developed an intelligence technology that enhances smooth movement by enabling ASIMO to choose between stepping back and yielding the right-of-way or continuing to walk based on the predicted movement of oncoming people. Honda also developed a new intelligence technology related to ASIMO’s ability to perform tasks such as carrying a tray and pushing a cart. In addition, a newly added function enables ASIMO to automatically charge its battery when its remaining battery level falls below a certain level. Furthermore, a new comprehensive system was developed so that multiple ASIMOs can share tasks by adjusting to the situation and work together in coordination to provide uninterrupted service. For example, if one ASIMO is idled while recharging, other ASIMO robots will step in and perform assigned tasks.

Honda will begin test operations of two ASIMOs equipped with these newly developed technologies December 12, at the second floor lobby of Honda’s Aoyama headquarters.

Since introducing an all-new ASIMO in 2005, with more advanced physical and intelligence capabilities, Honda has focused its R&D efforts more on the area of intelligence technologies. The newly developed technologies, which enable ASIMO to operate in an environment with people and other ASIMOs, bring Honda one step closer to the development of a humanoid robot that can be put to practical use in a real world environment requiring coexistence with people.

New function to work together

In situations where more than one ASIMO works together, information regarding the current status of each ASIMO will be shared constantly among the multiple networked ASIMOs in order to share tasks in the most efficient manner. More precisely, first, the distance between the current position of each ASIMO and the site where each task needs to be performed will be calculated. Then, taking remaining battery levels into consideration, the most time efficient way to share tasks among the multiple ASIMOs will be determined. Based on this decision, each ASIMO autonomously performs its assigned tasks.

New function to avoid oncoming people

ASIMO identifies oncoming people through its eye camera, calculates traveling direction and speed, predicts forthcoming movements of oncoming people, and chooses the most appropriate path so that it will not block the movement of others. When there is not enough space, ASIMO will step back and yield the right-of-way.

ASIMO yielding the right-of-way
ASIMO yielding the right-of-way

New autonomous battery charging function

A new battery charging station was developed for ASIMO’s autonomous recharging. When the remaining battery level falls below a certain level, ASIMO will automatically identify and walk to the closest available battery charging station and re-charge while standing.

ASIMO at charging station
ASIMO at charging station
ASIMO at charging station

Honda will continue its efforts to further advance intelligence technologies with the goal to develop a robot which can be truly useful in a real world environment where coexistence with people is required.

Test operations of ASIMO’s ability to guide visitors and deliver refreshments will be carried out at Honda’s Aoyama Headquarters from 3:00pm to 5:00pm weekdays between December 12, 2007 and January 31, 2008. ( except the winter holidays from December 29, 2007 to January 8, 2008.)”


See also:

New Version Amazing Robot Asimo:

For more, see this story on how Asimo works:

For information on many more robots in service in Japan, see Tmsuk's website for more information and pictures (in Japanese - here is a translated page):

tmsuk co., LTD

"The first hospital guide and receptionist robots in the world.

tmsuk co., LTD of Japan will supply three robots to Aidu Chuo Hospital.
At last, robots work in the real world.

tmsuk co., LTD, A practical robots mft, of Kitakyushu city in southern Japan, will supply one receptionist robot and two guide robots to Aidu Chuo Hospital of Aizu-wakamatsu, Fukushima. This is the first time in the world for guide and receptionist robots to be used at a private hospital.

Although it is expected that the robot industry will grow into a comprehensive industry equal to the car industry, a service robot's market has not yet been established. Despite robot makers having developed robots that are practical and usable, the present situation is that consumers are hesitant due to the lack of a track record, therefore, the market is still in its infancy. Aidu Chuo Hospital has decided to introduce these robots for better patient service and improvement in general convenience. We believe that the introduction of these three service robots is the first step in the development of the Japanese robot industry.

If a visitor to the hospital touches the panel on the robot body, or speaks to it, it will display directions on any surface from a projector in the robot's head, or make a printout from a printer in the robot's hand, and hand it to the visitor. Speech recognition also supports the Aizu dialect.


The robot can guide a visitor to a nearby elevator and carry baggage on the its arm. If the power of the battery is low, it will charge by returning automatically to an automatic battery charger.”


From The Robot Factory website (it seems to imply that Tmsuk is from England – it is a Japanese company, but perhaps it had an English subsidiary that has the writer confused):

TMSUK robots
“The TMSUK robot activity started in 1992 : the Thames company, then specialized in automatic machinery manufacturing, one day decided to create it’s own robot receptionist for the new innovative production unit they presented.

In 1993, the TMSUK-1 robot was born, and the TMSUK-2 followed in 1996. Since then, the company produced various robots, mostly aimed at research of testing purposes.

The TMSUK-04 (1999, pictured right) was the first TmSuk robot to be presented outside Japan in a few exhibitions around the world.
15 TMSUK-04 were produced, 11 of them were sold to research institutes.
The TmSuk-04 was later (2000) to evolve into a 6 wheeled version (namely and very logically “TmSuk04-2”), as a prototype for an inspection robot.

The key technology used in the TmSuk-04 control process is based on a technology Tmsuk developed in 1997 for the TmSuk3 robot. Those robots receive commands from a controller via a cellular phone network, and they transmit visual feedback and other data back to the controller.

Below: TmSuk T5. Car makers usually present “concept cars” during car fairs, well, TmSuk presented this “Concept robot” at the Robodex 2000 show. If you’ve read this page all the way down here, then your are definitely interested in robots, and maybe in mecha. Well, the T-5 concept is maybe the first ever giant robot prototype!

This machine is 2.9 meters tall, 1.8 meters wide and has water based hydraulic powered arms.

Want to make yourself a better of idea of what i mean by “the first ever giant robot prototype”? Well it seems that TmSuk has created a company dedicated to marketing a robot based on the 2000 T-5 platform (below).

The new machine is named T-52 and, following the japanese tradition of manga-like nicknames, it is subtitled “Hyper Rescue Robot”.

Beside the fact that this nickname would perfectly suit a tokusatsu show (there’s a thin line between reality and fiction when it comes to robot, in Japan!), i guess it’s actually pretty realistic to picture this machine operating on a natural disaster scene when regular bulldozers cannot do a precise enough job.

Compared to the T-5 concept robot, the T-52 is taller, based on more reliable hydraulics and heavy duty. It is also offering a control chamber for one operator to take place in.

The T-52 has no leg, but can move at 3 km/h (approximately the speed of a walking person) on its caterpillars.

If you would like to see the T-52 in action, Enryu is offering a movie page on their official site. Check it out here. [link no longer works]

Now, we don’t have a lighting-fast operating robot here. It is not even entirely humanoid. But i guess it’s a step forward to the giant robots era, and i’m actually quite pleased to notice it is not a war machine! :)”

Tmsuk’s RIDC-01 Robot Vacuuming:

For more see Tmusk’s History of Robots (in English):

Now here’s one that’s helpful, AND was presaged by a science fiction novel by over 30 years!

TMSUK Robot Carries Your Bags

“TMSUK has created a new shopping assistant robot. This service bot will follow you around autonomously, carrying your heavy bags full of purchases.

(TMSUK service robot carries your bags)

The robot will be tested at a shopping mall located in the Fukuoka airport in February of 2006. It turns out that British science fiction writer John Brunner wrote about a robot with a similar purpose in his 1975 masterpiece Shockwave Rider – the autoporter robot:

…he nabbed an autoporter and – after consulting the illuminated fee table on its flank – credded the minimum: $35 for an hour’s service… From now until his credit expired the machine would carry his bag in its soft plastic jaws and follow him as faithfully as a well-trained hound, which indeed it resembled, down to the whimper it was programmed to utter at the 55-minute mark, and the howl at 58.

At 60 it would drop the bag and slink away. “

And for those pesky times when you can’t watch the kids completely, there’s hope:

Roborior robot watching home:

For the humanoid “Geminoid” robot, designed to look like the it’s developer, it may be all to life-like and reminiscent of Data, the android from Star Trek: The Next Generation:

From the Pink Tentacle blog:

Geminoid videos

22 Jul 2006

Geminoid with creator Ishiguro

Geminoid is a remote-control doppelganger droid designed by and modeled after Hiroshi Ishiguro, professor at Osaka University and researcher at ATR Intelligent Robotics and Communication Laboratories. Robot Watch has released some short videos, which you can see at the links below. Video format is WMV.

Video 1: Ishiguro introduces himself through Geminoid.

Video 2: This segment shows Geminoid’s facial movements. The telepresent Ishiguro explains, “When someone touches Geminoid, it seems as if I am the one being touched.”

Video 3: Geminoid (Ishiguro) doesn’t like it when you touch his face.

Video 4: Geminoid is programmed so that his head continues to move, even when not being specifically controlled.

Video 5: Sitting next to Geminoid, Ishiguro discusses his research concerning “presence.”

In Latin, gemin means “twin” or “double,” while –oid is a suffix indicating a “likeness to something else.” Hiroshi Ishiguro would say that his Geminoid is like a twin. The body is a copy of Ishiguro’s, and the shape of Geminoid’s skull was created based on MRI scans of Ishiguro’s head. And Geminoid shares some of his mannerisms.

Geminoid’s body, which was produced by Kokoro, makers of the Actroid line of fembots, has 46 degrees of freedom and is driven by a system of air compressors. The skin consists of soft, silicone rubber. Confined to a chair at the moment, the android is unable to stand up and move about on his own. Communication and power cables exit his rear end and snake through the shaft of the chair out of sight. It took 6 months of work to develop the body and about 2 to 3 months to develop the software.

One of the purposes for creating Geminoid is to explore the concept of tele-existence — to figure out what is needed in order to copy an actual human’s “presence” so that he or she may exist in two places at once. “I wonder how possible it is to separate one’s inner self and outer self, to create distance between one’s body and soul,” Ishiguro says.

See more photos of Geminoid at this link: [Source: Robot Watch]”

image image image

Now here’s the U.S. take on robotics:

Autonomous Robot Weapons For Terrorists?

“Killer robots created by terrorists? Terrorists have already proven resourceful in using cell phones and the Internet. Noel Sharkey, professor of artificial intelligence and robotics at the University of Sheffield, believes that robotics is yet another area in which terrorists might adapt modern technology to their own purposes.

Sharkey spoke at a one-day conference organized by Britain’s Royal United Services Institute:

“How long is it going to be before the terrorists get in on the act? With the current prices of robot construction falling dramatically and the availability of ready-made components for the amateur market, it wouldn’t require a lot of skill to make autonomous robot weapons.”

According to Shakey, a small GPS-guided drone with an autopilot can be constructed for less than $500.

Hopefully, the terrorists won’t read Count Zero, the 1986 novel by William Gibson; they might build a slamhound.

THEY sent A SLAMHOUND on Turner’s trail in New Delhi, slotted it to his pheromones and the color of his hair. It caught up with him on a street called Chandni Chauk and came scrambling for his rented BMW through a forest of bare brown legs and pedicab tires. Its core was a kilogram of recrystallized hexogene and flaked TNT.
(Read more about Gibson’s slamhound)

As far as I know, the first autonomous robotic bomb was the wabbler from the 1942 story of the same name by Murray Leinster.”

The U.S. has a different concept, seeing robotics as something that can be converted or diverted to more dangerous uses, or perhaps take on a mind of it’s own, and without the Laws of Robotics, coined by Isaac Asimov, take over the world, as in the Terminator sequence. But some companies are trying to change that. Disneyland is upgrading it’s House of the Future, one of my favorite memories from a trip to Disneyland as a child in the ’60s.

From Technology, updated 1:35 p.m. EST, Wed February 13, 2008:

Disneyland goes back to the future

ANAHEIM, California (AP) — “Millions of Disneyland visitors lined up a half-century ago to catch a glimpse of the future: a home teeming with mind-blowing gadgets such as hands-free phones, wall-sized televisions, plastic chairs, and electric razors and toothbrushes.

Disneyland’s original “House of the Future” opened in 1957 and was torn down 10 years later.

The “House of the Future,” a pod-shaped, all-plastic dwelling that quickly seemed quaint closed its doors a decade later. Now Disney is set to open a new abode in Tomorrowland — this time in partnership with 21st century technology giants.

The 5,000-square-foot home scheduled to open in May will look like a normal suburban home outside, but inside it will feature hardware, software and touch-screen systems that could simplify everyday living.

Lights and thermostats will automatically adjust when people walk into a room. Closets will help pick out the right dress for a party. Countertops will be able to identify groceries set on them and make menu suggestions.

The $15 million home is a collaboration of The Walt Disney Co., Microsoft Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., software maker LifeWare and homebuilder Taylor Morrison.

Visitors will experience the look of tomorrow by watching Disney actors playing a family of four preparing for a trip to China.

“It’s much different than a spiel that you would get at a trade show,” said Dave Miller, director of alliance development for Walt Disney Parks & Resorts. “We won’t get into the bits and the bytes. It will be about the digital lifestyle and how that lifestyle can help you.”

The actors will be in a flurry of cooking, packing and picture-taking designed to emphasize cutting-edge features in the home’s two bedrooms, living room, kitchen, dining room, study and back yard.

Much of the project will showcase a network that makes the house “smart” and follows family members from room to room — even adjusting artwork — to preset personal preferences.

When a resident clicks a TV remote, for example, lights will dim, music will shut off and the shades will draw as the network realizes a movie is about to start.

The system will allow residents to transfer digital photos, videos and music among televisions and computers in different rooms at the click of a button. Other applications still in development could include touch-screen technology built into appliances, furniture and countertops, said Joe Belfiore, Microsoft’s vice president for entertainment services.

In the kitchen, for example, touch pad software on the countertop would be able to identify groceries and produce recipes and meal suggestions. Similar programs could turn a desktop into a computer screen, allowing residents to load photos, music or e-mail onto a cell phone by placing it on the desk.

Mirrors and closets could identify clothes and suggest matching outfits, complementary colors or track what apparel is at the cleaners or in the wash.

The home will also feature new uses for devices that many visitors may already own, as well as technologies that are still five or 10 years down the road, said Mike Seamons, vice president of marketing at LifeWare, which makes home automation software.

“If people walk through there and say, ‘I don’t have anything in this house at all,’ then we’ve totally failed,” Seamons said. “We’re not waiting for robots to happen in order for it to be a reality.”

When it comes to aesthetics, designers decided to stray from the Jetsons-style House of the Future — an all-plastic cross design with four wing-shaped bays that appeared to float. The house was so tough that wrecking balls bounced off it when Disney ripped it down in 1967.

The new home will be made of wood and steel and finished in muted browns and beiges, said Sheryl Palmer, president and chief executive of Taylor Morrison in North America.

‘The 1950s home didn’t look like anything, anywhere. It was space-age and kind of cold,” she said. “We didn’t want the (new) home to intimidate the visitors. We want the house to be real accessible to our guests.'”

For a trip down nostalgia lane:

Monsanto House of the Future

Photo of the House of the Future
“The floors on which you are walking, the gently sloping walls around you, and even the ceilings are made of plastics.”


“Welcome to the walk-through attraction that provides a glimpse of how you’ll be living in future. You won’t find traditional furniture styles or natural materials in the House of the Future. Everything is ultra-modern and almost entirely synthetic. It’s a demonstration of style and technology.

Photo of House of the Future entrance
Monsanto Chemical Co. invites you to walk up the stairs to the entrance.

  • Step up to the Monsanto House of the Future, with its four equal wings “floating” above the beautifully landscaped grounds and waterfalls.
  • Enter the dining and family room, a comfortable place where the family of the future will play, rest, and dine on stylish plastic furniture.
  • Look into the “Atoms for Living Kitchen” with its revolutionary microwave oven.
  • Pass the two kid’s bedrooms—one for the boy of the future and one for the girl of the future—and the shared kids’ bathroom.
  • Next, see the master bedroom and the main bathroom.
  • Conclude your tour in the sleek living room, with its giant, non-operational, wall-mounted television screen.

Photo of House of the Future with dark blue sky
It’s stylish.

At Disneyland, the House of the Future opened in 1957 on a prime site just off the Hub, adjacent to the Circarama theater. The House of the Future was one of two free attractions sponsored by Monsanto. The other was the Hall of Chemistry, which closed in 1966. After Monsanto’s Adventure Thru Inner Space opened in 1967, the House of the Future was doomed.

Disneyland publicity photo of the House of the Future
Disneyland publicity photo of the House of the Future

Legend has it that the planned one-day demolition of the House of Future ended up taking two weeks as the wrecking ball just bounced off the exterior. Workers painstakingly cut the house into pieces with hacksaws.

After the House of the Future was removed, the house’s landscaping, waterfalls, and walkways remained. The area, named “Alpine Gardens,” became home to a souvenir stand. In 1995, Disneyland added the King Triton sculpture and delightful jumping fountains.

The House of the Future hasn’t been forgotten. In fact, for an attraction that’s been gone since 1967 because it was outdated, it’s amazing that there continue to be homages to the House of the Future at Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

Photo of House of Innoventions at Epcot
The House of Innoventions at Epcot.

The House of Innoventions at Epcot is in some ways similar to the House of the Future. It’s an opportunity to see innovative new products for the home, some of which are already available, and some of which are prototypes for future products. It’s not as visionary as the House of the Future, and the “house” itself is just a simple box-like structure within the one of the Innoventions halls. But it’s fun; it’s updated every year; and the guides do a good job. It’s one of Epcot’s best hidden attractions.

Photo of construction wall in Innoventions at Disneyland
Behind this construction wall, Disneyland is building a new House of the Future.

On February 13, 2008, the Disneyland Resort announced that a new House of the Future—to be called the Innoventions Dream Home—would open in May 2008. (Is anyone else getting tired of Disney’s overuse of the words dream and dreams?)

But don’t expect a return of the 1957 plastic marvel, and don’t expect visionary predictions of how we might live decades from now. As at Epcot, this new display home will be inside the Innoventions attraction. The round Innoventions pavilion at Disneyland was originally the Carousel Theater, home of the General Electric Carousel of Progress (1967-1973) and America Sings (1974-1988). According to an Associated Press article, “The 5,000-square-foot home, scheduled to open in May, will look like a suburban tract home outside. But inside it will feature hardware, software and touch-screen systems that could simplify everyday living.”

The Innoventions Dream Home is sponsored by Microsoft, HP, Life|ware and homebuilder Taylor Morrison to showcase the sponsors’ products. Guests will discover how the home’s residents, the fictional Elias family, enjoy the latest in mobile phones, PCs, digital music and gaming, as they prepare for a trip to the World Soccer Championships in China. Guests will interact with family members, who, unlike the Carousel of Progress family, will be real people. The family’s name is a nod to Walter Elias Disney. I don’t know about you, but if I were preparing for a trip to China, I wouldn’t have time to interact with thousands of people visiting my home.

Unlike the old House of the Future, the Innoventions Dream Home probably won’t be fondly remembered a half century later. But it promises to be better than most other exhibits in Disneyland’s Innoventions.”

Photo of Innoventions at Disneyland
Innoventions at Disneyland.

And from Disneyland News:

13 February 2008

ANAHEIM, Calif., (February 13, 2008) – “The Disneyland Resort today announced a five-year alliance with Microsoft, HP, Life|ware and home builder Taylor Morrison to showcase integrated digital technologies for the home in the immersive, story-telling experiences for which Disney is known. The alliance includes the design and development of the new Innoventions Dream Home attraction, a 5,000+ sq. ft. home belonging to the fictional Elias family, scheduled to open in May in Tomorrowland at the Disneyland Resort.

Keeping with Walt’s vision of bringing cutting-edge and inspiring ideas to Tomorrowland, the Innoventions Dream Home will introduce Disneyland guests to newly available technology from the participating companies that will enhance their lives today, while providing them a glimpse of the emerging digital advances they may find in their homes in the future. The attraction will provide guests with a “high-tech, high-touch” opportunity to experience technology in an entertaining, low-risk environment showing them how the power of technology can connect them to the people and things they care most about.

“We’re thrilled that Disney has chosen Microsoft to bring digital entertainment to life at Disneyland,” said Joe Belfiore, Corporate Vice President, Entertainment and Devices eHome Division at Microsoft. “Together, we’re showcasing innovative technology that is both attainable and inspiring, offering park guests the opportunity to see, touch and feel digital home experiences in a simple, fun and interactive environment.”

“This exciting alliance gives each of our partners a forum to inspire our guests’ imaginations and motivate them to incorporate and enjoy the new technologies that are available today,” said Ed Grier, president of Disneyland Resort. “Consistent with the Disney heritage of growth through innovation, the Innoventions Dream Home is just another example of how we are committed to investing in and developing exciting projects that keep our guests returning again.”

The technology companies will showcase a wide range of technologies and products in the exhibit, including the latest in mobile phones, PCs, digital music and gaming. The Innoventions Dream Home demonstrates how home technology can be simple, intuitive and fun while helping guests understand how to seamlessly interconnect their home, the surrounding community and the world, helping consumers stay closer to the people, places and entertainment that are most important to them. The alliances also help ensure that the Innoventions Dream Home remains on the forefront of technology with the newest devices and products as part of the exhibit.

Guests will actively engage in this experience as they help members of the fictional Elias family prepare for a trip to World Soccer Championships in China, where their son is competing. Elias family members rotate throughout the house, randomly interacting with guests in the various rooms. Upon exiting the house, guests can learn more about the companies that collaborated to create the Innoventions Dream House, exploring the technologies for themselves first-hand.

INSERT (the only picture I could find of the house’s exterior OR interior! It’s “under” wraps.):

image – Photo: Disney

The notion of a Dream Home has deep roots at the Disneyland Resort. Walt Disney was fascinated with the concept of a futuristic home and the “Monsanto House of the Future” opened in June, 1957, near the entry to Tomorrowland. In 1998, Disneyland opened Innoventions, an interactive pavilion featuring what was then considered breakthrough technology: voice-activated computers, high-definition TVs, smart-cars and satellite broadcasting. The story line always focused on progress that led to a better way of living.

The intent was not to predict the future, but to let people play with emerging technologies and imagine how those technologies might enhance everyday life. The precursors to the Dream Home enabled people of all ages to experiment with interactive devices, games and exhibits, demonstrating both the fun and the significance of modern innovations.

Now comes the Dream Home, a convergence of five companies and their fascination with technology. The combination of Disney’s strong storytelling heritage, cutting-edge technology expertise from Microsoft, HP and Life|ware, and Taylor Morrison’s talent for building an environment that will bring it to life, will inspire Disneyland guests’ imaginations for years to come.”

HP – Carlos Montalvo, Vice President, Managed Home Division, Personal Systems Group
“The Disney Innoventions Dream Home will bring to life HP’s vision of consumers living a connected, high-definition lifestyle, demonstrating how simple it is today to control where and when you enjoy your digital content. As a driver of the emerging ‘Connected Entertainment’ market, HP is delivering on the promise of making connected entertainment an integral part of everyday life.”

Life|ware – Seale Moorer, Founder and CEO of Life|ware
“Life|ware is honored to be a part of the ongoing legacy of Tomorrowland,” said Seale Moorer, Founder and CEO of Life|ware. “The Innoventions Dream Home may seem futuristic to many Disneyland guests, but in fact, adding Life|ware entertainment and automation technology to products many people already own will bring this experience much closer to home than ever before. We’re thrilled to work with Disney and our partners to help people see how they can enhance their digital lifestyles now and in the future.”

Microsoft- Joe Belfiore, Corporate Vice President, Entertainment and Devices eHome Division
“Microsoft technologies touch the lives of 1 billion people, giving us an unparalleled opportunity – and perhaps responsibility – to help people understand the products and services that can enrich their lives. With millions of visitors to Disneyland every year, being a part of Innoventions Dream Home is one way to reach people and fulfill that role.”

“By visiting the Innoventions Dream Home at Disneyland, people can see, touch and feel the latest and greatest Microsoft technologies that will inspire them to try out new technologies in their own homes as well as better understand what’s available today.”

Taylor-Morrison – Sheryl Palmer, CEO
On participating:

• “Taylor Morrison has a rich heritage of building homes that become a meaningful part of our customers’ lives. To be able to participate in a project that carries the Disney name on it is a tremendous compliment to the hard work of our staff through the years.”• “Much like our partners, Taylor Morrison has a legacy of being an innovator in its field. We’re excited to apply our extensive design and construction expertise to the Innoventions Dream Home and feel fortunate to be the exclusive provider of this pioneering technology package when it’s brought to market.”

On the home’s design:

• “In designing the Innoventions Dream Home, we approached the project in much the same way as we have the wide range of homes we’ve built through the years – by drawing on our company’s experience, imagination and old-fashioned ingenuity.”• “Being an industry leader takes determination, inventiveness and a dedication to being bold when the situation calls for it. Like Walt Disney and our Innoventions Dream Home partners, these traits have served to transform Taylor Morrison into the dominant market leader it has become over the years.”

On the partnership:

• “We feel very fortunate to be partnering with our fellow Innoventions Dream Home collaborators in this five-year alliance with Disney to bring the latest in cutting-edge technology and home design to Disneyland Resort guests.”• “Walt Disney was fond of saying that his company ‘all started because of a mouse.’ For Taylor Morrison, it all started with a house, built by a 16-year-old visionary, Frank Taylor.”

And Microsoft is lending it’s considerable talents to the robotic scene, leading a possible opening for more U.S. development, from Artificial Intelligence and Robotics: A blog about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotics:

Microsoft forms alliance with Tmsuk robot manufacturer

Monday, September 10, 2007 at 7:45 AM Posted by Awesom-o

Tmsuk humanoid robot“Microsoft and Tmsuk have announced a new partnership that will have Microsoft’s Robotics Studio powering Tmsuk’s robots. Tmsuk is a Japanese robot manufacturer that has been building robots since 1992. The large collection of robots Tmsuk has developed ranges from traditional wheeled robots to humanoids; the robots are designed for a number of different applications including health-care and office jobs, i.e., robot receptionists.
Tmsuk joins the large number of robot manufacturers who are providing drivers for the Microsoft Robotics Studio (MSRS), Bill Gates’s initiative to create a standard platform for robot programming and development. Even though Microsoft only has a small number of engineers developing MSRS, they have achieved a large penetration in the market in a bit more than a year since their software development suit has been available to the public.
Gates is obviously taking this initiative very seriously. Microsoft has no problem using their influence in the industry to dominate a new market. The open source Player/Stage initiative is probably feeling the heat at the moment but they are also reporting more than 60,000 downloads. The battle has not been decided yet because even though software seems to progress quickly, hardware hasn’t moved forward by much this year. Still, 2008 will be a critical year on deciding who will be providing software for the consumer robots that are expected to start dominating the market over then next decade.”

Unfortunately, the U.S. seemed stuck at the Roomba stage, the only robot that had gained commercial non-industrial use (from the iRobot wesbite, the makers of Roomba):

How iRobot Roomba Works

“Roomba is an intelligent and effective vacuuming robot. All Roomba Vacuuming Robots feature iRobot’s unique AWARE™ Robot Intelligence Systems. AWARE uses dozens of sensors to monitor Roomba’s environment, and adjusts Roomba’s behavior up to 67 times per second, ensuring that Roomba cleans effectively, intelligently and safely.

To see how some of Roomba’s features work, see this page ( for videos of the following features:
A powerful vacuum

Hard-to-reach places

Carpets to hard floors

Avoids drop-offs

Detects dirt

Won’t get stuck

Light-touch bumper

Automatically recharges

Avoids off-limit areas


Modular Design

A smart and powerful vacuum

Roomba picks up an amazing amount of dirt, dust, pet hair, dander, cat litter, crumbs, leaves and other debris as it autonomously navigates throughout your home. Roomba automatically adjusts from carpets to hard floors and cleans everywhere you want while avoiding off-limit areas.”

From when Roomba was first introduced – skepticism:

Saturday, September 14, 2002

Maid to Order
A little robot called Roomba vacuums your house while you lounge by the pool. Is this the beginning of the end?


“The new Roomba robotic vacuum from iRobot, shown vacuuming cat litter
Saturday, Sep. 14, 2002

The first time you meet a robot can be pretty disappointing. Hollywood has taught us what to expect: a trusty sidekick like R2-D2, a gleaming robo-maid like The Jetsons’ Rosey or a cyberassassin like the Terminator. The reality is very different: most robots are either mindless factory drones or blue-sky academic projects that cost a fortune, break down a lot and don’t do very much. Most of them don’t even have death rays.

Now meet Roomba, a new housecleaning robot spawned by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Artificial Intelligence Lab and built by a Somerville, Mass., company called iRobot. Roomba’s function is a humble one: it’s designed to vacuum your living room while you’re otherwise engaged. But Roomba also represents a technological watershed: it’s the first robot ever built that is designed to live in your home, serve a useful purpose and be priced for the mass market — at $199, it costs about the same as a mid-range vacuum cleaner. Roomba isn’t quite Rosey the Robot, but it just might be Rosey’s great-great-grandparent.

The Roomba in Action
The Anatomy of a Robot
Find out how the Roomba works

Roomba had three parents: Rodney Brooks, director of M.I.T.’s AI Lab, and two of his former graduate students, Colin Angle and Helen Greiner. Brooks, who was featured in the 1997 documentary Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control, is arguably the world’s greatest living roboticist. A voluble Australian, he’s famous for finding radical, counterintuitive approaches to intractable problems; the nasa rover that went to Mars aboard Pathfinder was designed using techniques he pioneered.

With his two collaborators, Brooks spent the 1980s building experimental robots such as Genghis and Attila, six-legged insectoidal creatures with multiple onboard computers and dozens of sensors. These robots looked cool and cost a lot but on a practical level accomplished almost nothing. “You go into robotics thinking you’re going to change the world,” says Angle, who looks like a younger, nerdier Quaid brother. “You’re not going to change the world with a million-dollar robot.” In 1990 Angle, Greiner and Brooks founded iRobot hoping to build practical, affordable robots for everyday life.

But first they had to learn some hard lessons about those difficult creatures known as human beings. A robot is essentially a computer with a body, but iRobot wanted to market its robots as household appliances. And it turns out people have higher standards for appliances than they have for computers. Appliances have to be cheap, simple and reliable; nobody is going to buy a $2,000 vacuum cleaner that requires a Ph.D. in engineering and has to be rebooted twice a day. Leaving the ivory tower for the iRobot team was a culture shock. “We had to learn about plastics,” Angle sighs. “We had to learn about Far East manufacturing. We learned that if you haven’t had a sit-down, drag-out, pound-on-the-table argument over a nickel, you don’t understand consumer products.”

The iRoboters also had to learn about a subject that most scientists never really study: cleaning floors. They got down on their knees and worked out the physics of how dust collects and circulates. Vacuum cleaners consume large amounts of electricity, so they had to invent a new kind of low-power vacuum that would allow Roomba to run on rechargeable batteries. They ran their baby bot over “torture tracks” to test its mobility. They spent a night in a Target store to watch industrial cleaners at work.

Twelve years and 30 prototypes later, Roomba was born: a 5-lb. 10-oz., 13.5-in.-wide household robot that looks more like a horseshoe crab than a human being. Turn it on, and it springs to life with a surprising sense of alertness–almost as if it had a personality. Roomba’s vision is limited, so it ranges around the room partly at random, covering open areas in widening spirals, then carefully following walls when it finds them, lightly bouncing off the occasional lamp or chair leg. It navigates using a set of simple rules called “heuristics”; iRobot originally developed Roomba’s pathfinding program for a military robot designed to clear minefields. When Roomba determines — based on those heuristics, the size of the room and the number of obstacles it encounters on its travels — that it has covered every part of the room several times over, it stops, beeps cheerfully and shuts itself down.

As maids go, Roomba isn’t perfect. Because of its shape, it leaves a little fluff in the corners where it can’t quite reach. And if a couch is just the wrong height, Roomba can get wedged underneath. It helps to make the room Roomba-friendly by clearing up clutter and closing doors before you let it loose. (“It’s a robot,” Angle says, playing the protective daddy. “It’s not Einstein.”) But Roomba gets the job done — as long as the job isn’t too big — and it sure beats doing it yourself. Angle hopes that one day Roomba will do for vacuuming what dishwashers did for dishwashing.

That day isn’t here quite yet, but it’s coming, and perhaps soon. Don’t believe it? The big players are already moving in; companies like Hoover, Electrolux and Dyson are working on their own vacuum-cleaner robots, though they have yet to bring one to market in the U.S. Think of what personal computers were like in the late ’70s. Nobody believed then that anybody would want a PC in their home, but then companies like Apple and Radio Shack made PCs affordable, and a killer app — word processing — made them indispensable. Now we can’t imagine life without them.

Roomba will go on sale this week at and in retail stores, and on the Home Shopping Network shortly afterward. The first shot in the robot revolution has been fired, and the race to build the first successful PR (personal robot) is on. Is vacuuming the killer app robots have been waiting for? Is iRobot the first of the (gulp!) botcoms? If it is, one thing is clear: Roomba won’t be the only one that cleans up.”

An update. from the roombareview forum, by “marymac – roomba lover,” Posted: January 29, 2008, 10:05 pm

“The filter replacement that was discussed was on older models (I think the 400 series). The 500 series filters really can’t be modified or replaced with other materials. They’re smaller. Just shake them out or run them under water to clean. The 500 series filters are effective in capturing dust. Mine always has a heavy coating on it at the end of a run.

The first time I used my Roomba 550, I thought I’d made a mistake buying it because the air seemed dirty from the vacuum. I have a 9 year old Hoover Wind Tunnel with a Hepa filter that I loved when I bought it because of the Hepa filter – I could vacuum and not suffer respiratory problems! However – I really hate vacuuming and I’d go many weeks (I’m too embarrassed to say how many!) without doing it – so what good was the Hepa filter?

After the Roomba ran a few times and eliminated a lot of accumulated cat fur, hair, and general dust, I noticed the air quality never bothered me again. My carpets and floors have never been this clean. And my entire house in general is cleaner because clutter has to be controlled when you run a Roomba daily. I’ve become quite the little housekeeper since I bought a Roomba and Scooba. I’ve never really enjoyed cleaning before – but I love having spotless carpets and floors. And I initially thought the maintenance of the Roomba – and especially the Scooba – was annoying – I now find it enjoyable. It’s a kind of Zen experience. It really doesn’t take that much time – and it’s more enjoyable than pushing a vacuum or a mop. Dare I say it’s fun to clean these machines? It takes less than 5 minutes.

Other people on this forum have other vacuum robots. One is a Karcher With a run time of up to one hour per charge, the robot automatically returns to the base station to charge and empty itself into the base station. After a 20 minute charge, it automatically resumes vacuuming. It’s low profile, stair detection feature, and low impact bumpers, allow it to safely and thoroughly clean even hard to reach areas. If you want a robotic vacuum – go for the Karcher – but it’s $1495 U.S. dollars. I think the iRobot is great for the price – in the USA – not the European price!

In summary, I honestly feel the Roomba and Scooba have made me a better housekeeper and have given me the incentive to be much more organized at home. I also just love gazing at my very shiny tile floors! And I always walk around barefoot and it’s still a thrill to feel a squeaky-clean floor under my feet. And to look at my circular Roomba tracks in the carpet and admire the cleanliness and lack of dust. My highly allergic daughter-in-law didn’t have to leave the house at all over the holidays. She likes to sit on the carpet and then she has breathing problems (due to the dust and cat fur in the past). With the Roomba at work all the time – there’s no dust – or cat fur!

I don’t view the iRobots as gadgets but as cleaning tools – and yes I named them but I only call the Roomba by his name. The Scooba is used only once/week so that relationship hasn’t been fully developed! I’ve had my 550 almost 4 months and I still smile when I hear the happy little song that signifies he’s starting to work or has successfully docked. My first trash compactor made me pretty happy – and I still love compacting my trash to this day – 27 years later – but these robots are even better – and I’d rather clean them than the trash compactor (I still remember the grape jelly jar compaction that went bad!).”

But is it getting better? From Robots in America: Insider blogs from the staff at Robotic Industries Association

NFL Helps Robots M[a]ssage Their Image

by Brian Huse, Director, Marketing & PR (RIA)

“Fox Sports on MSN recently posted a story claiming Eagles team trainer Rick Burkholder has adopted a device for “robotic therapy.” According to the report, a robot arm with a special end effector can do a better job than a person at massaging muscles to loosen up the back. I wasn’t able to find any more details, so I have to wonder if this is a real robot arm (in the industrial sense), or just set of rollers and gears like you can find in m[a]ssage chairs at malls.

A lot of devices get called robots that upon closer examination are probably nothing more than mechanical devices with a little mobility. But the term robot is more popular than ever, and at Robotic Industries Association, we are very aware of how perception is changing. It seems the general attitude for robots in everyday life has become more positive than ever over the last few years.

We have seen toys like the Sony Aibo (now discontinued) and Wow Wee’s Robosapien ride a wave of popularity in the consumer market. Robotic lawnmowers continue to attract interest if not large market share. Roomba, the robotic “vacuum cleaner” seems to be the most successful product in this segment.

If you have enough expendable income you might end up with one of the robots sold to the consumer segment. Even more sophisticated (and expensive) devices have made inroads in the medical, military and law enforcement sectors.

There is room for debate on where this all will lead. Many pundits say the non-industrial robot market is bigger than that for factory robots. It’s not always easy to say how robots are defined in these “other” markets, and safety issues are far from resolved. As soon as concerns are raised about pets and small children you will find a dearth of information on how to protect consumers, whereas in the industrial market, worker safety around robots is very well defined by the ANSI/RIA R15.06 Robot Safety Standard which holds great weight with OSHA.

Another factor not often addressed has to do with corporate investment. If the market is so huge, where are the Fords, Mattels and IBMs of consumer robotics? Perhaps the argument is that this industry is a collection of small companies and startups pounding out millions of dollars in sales on a collective basis. Nevertheless, this always makes me wonder what qualifies this collection of goods to be classified as robots.

We do know that Microsoft has a software suite to standardize and simplify programming for mobile robots, which they hope will help stimulate success by companies looking to market robots to consumers. Meanwhile, every time a story comes out like the one about robots for NFL training rooms, awareness goes up and positive interest is reinforced.

Robotic Industries Association is fortunate to have more than 260 company members representing thousands of professionals with tremendous technical know-how and business acumen. Our members have honed their skills in a competitive marketplace and sit on committees and a very active Board that guides Association activities.

RIA is North America’s only trade association dedicated to industrial robots, a market that evolved a little over forty years ago when Unimation sold its first robot to General Motors. It is very easy to identify the industry’s main players with a simple review of RIA’s member ranks. Perhaps the service robot market is nearly ready for its own formal trade association to represent its market leaders. We are very interested in developments and needs of the non-industrial robot sector and ready to respond as needs and issues arise.”

So, things are looking up:

Robosapien is a WINNER!
Check out its growing list of awards!


“Welcome to the Wow Wee Robosapien website, your official source for information about the first affordable humanoid robot.

Loaded with attitude and intelligence, Robosapien is the first robot based on the science of applied biomorphic robotics.

Designed by a scientist, Robosapien is ready to go right out of the box (just install his batteries). He comes to life at a touch of the ergonomically designed remote controller! Command him to perform one of his pre-programmed functions or program your own sequence of functions.
The only limitation is your own imagination.

About Robosapien:
Robosapien is packed with an awesome number of features made possible by advanced technologies:
Fluid motions and gestures: fast dynamic 2-speed walking and turning; full-function arms with two types of grippers.
67 pre-programmed functions: pick-up, throw, kick, dance, kung-fu, fart, belch, rap and more; 3 demonstration modes.
Fully programmable by remote control: Up to 84 program steps with 4 program modes for advanced operations; programmable “reflexes” to sound and touch stimuli.
Fluent international “caveman” speech.
Extended battery life.

About Mark Tilden:
Mark, the designer of Robosapien, is a robotics physicist who has worked for NASA, DARPA and JPL through Los Alamos National Laboratory. He developed the basics for biomorphic robotics in 1988; Robosapien is the first commercially available robot based upon this principle.”

From YouTube, Robosapien learns to bowl:

And for the future of Robotics, and some video (this is from Robots in America WordPress blog):

Unauthorized Site Contains Interesting Video from Robots & Vision Show

July 31, 2007

by Brian Huse, Director, Marketing & PR (RIA)

“What would you do if you found an unauthorized Web site about your company’s “family jewels”? I recently bumped into a site that highlights the Association’s International Robots & Vision Show, our biggest and most elaborate event, and was delighted to see it was done in such an interesting manner. Nelson Bridwell came to the 2007 Show and (with permission) shot footage and interviews on the floor.

It turns out that Mr. Bridwell, 55, used to work for Intel and is now running a startup business called Mirage Robotics in Beaverton, Oregon. After a brief search, I was able to find his number and have a quick conversation to see what makes him tick.

Nelson Bridwell foresees a day when robotic applications are incorporated into the transportation industry, specifically in ways that are now being explored in DARPA’s Grand Challenge which is a competition for developing autonomous vehicles. He hopes this leads to spin-off technology in the automotive market for the elderly or in the delivery sector.

An admirer of Joseph F. Engelberger, the “Father of Robotics,” Nelson sites a sentiment he credits to Joe that there is little merit in creating humanoid robots for the sake of an emotional reaction. (This certainly is the kind of thing I’ve heard Joe talk about.) Mr. Bridwell hopes to see more practical applications for non-industrial robots, and feels the biggest bottleneck for progress is software, not hardware.

It was an interesting few minutes with Nelson. His site is not sanctioned by the Association, but if you want to see it and all the videos and other commentary, go to”

From YouTube, a video from the Robots Vision Show on a craps dealing robot:

As for the future of Robotics, read the essay below this little update, a link to which is in this piece, from the Robots in America WordPress blog:

Future of Robots

“At RIA, we are often asked to predict the future for robotics. In December 2001, I wrote an open letter to students in general, and one in particular, who wanted to know how robots would affect future generations. Since then, it has become one of the most read articles on Robotics Online.

Even though many years have passed since it was written, the editorial is still valid. There is, however, one notable discrepancy. In this article, I reference 10,000 visitors per year for Robotics Online. In 2006, the site hosted more than 2.2 million visitors (I had to check … that is a 21,900-percent increase).

Click here to read, “How Robots Will Affect Future Generations.”

I had to include the piece, as it highlights where we are going, and how we might get there (and it affects one of my favorite commercial cookies – the Milano) – remember, they now get 2.2 million visitors a year to their site, and I suspect that number will only grow:

How Robots Will Affect Future Generations
by Brian Huse

“What does the future hold for robot applications? How will robots affect society in five years; 10 years; 20? These are typical questions received by Robotic Industries Association. Following is a look forward based on a correspondence I recently sent to a student to address in a small way a very big question: ”How will robots affect future generations?”

Robots in Your Every Day Life
Let’s start with life as we know it. Did you know that your life is affected virtually every day by robots?

If you ride in a car, an industrial robot helped build it. If you eat cookies, such as the Milano brand from Pepperidge Farm, there are robot assembly lines to help make and pack them. The computer you use to send e-mails and use for research almost certainly owes its existence, in part, to industrial robots. Industrial robots are even used in the medical field, from pharmaceuticals to surgery.

From the manufacturing of pagers and cell phones to space exploration, robots are part of the every day fabric of life.

Robots: Past and Present
Thirty years ago, a person who pondered robots would probably never have guessed that robot technology would be so pervasive, and yet so overlooked. A 19 year-old author named Isaac Asimov, who in 1939 started writing science fiction about humanoid robots, inspired some of the first popular notions about robots. Before him it was Karel Capek, a Czech playwright, who coined the word ‘robot’ in his 1921 play ”R.U.R.” And even in millennia past, some folks conceived of artificial people built of wire and metal, even stone, known by some as ”automatons,” or manlike machines.

Today, robots are doing human labor in all kinds of places. Best of all, they are doing the jobs that are unhealthy or impractical for people. This frees up workers to do the more skilled jobs, including the programming, maintenance and operation of robots.

A simplified definition of a robot is that it must be a device with three or more axis of motion (e.g. shoulder, elbow, wrist), an end effector (tool), and that it may be reprogrammed for different tasks. (This disqualifies most of the toy ”robots” sold at stores.)

Robots that work on cars and trucks are welding and assembling parts, or lifting heavy parts –the types of jobs that involve risks like injury to your back and arm or wrist, or they work in environments filled with hazards like excessive heat, noise or fumes-dangerous places for people. Robots that assemble and pack cookies or other foodstuff do so without the risk of carpal tunnel injury, unlike their human counterparts. Robots that make computer chips are working in such tiny dimensions that a person couldn’t even do some of the precision work required.

In the health industry, robots are helping to research and develop drugs, package them and even assist doctors in complicated surgery such as hip replacement and open heart procedures. And the main reason robots are used in any application is because they do the work so much better that there is a vast improvement in quality and/or production, or costs are brought down so that companies can be the best at what they do while keeping workers safe.

Robots Keep the Economy Rolling
High-quality products can lead to higher sales, which means the company that uses technology like robots is more likely to stay alive and vital, which is good for the economy. In addition to improving quality, robots improve productivity, another key element to economic health.

To think about how robots might affect future generations, consider what happened a few hundred years ago when the industrial revolution began. For instance, in 1794 Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, and later the concept of interchangeable parts for mass production of manufactured products. His inventions spurred growth in the United States, increased productivity in a variety of industries, and created more job opportunities as companies throughout the world adopted his technology and ideas.

In 1865 John Deere invented the cast steel plow blade, giving farmers a tool to greatly increase productivity. The light bulb came in 1880. The airplane appeared in 1906. Assembly lines, TVs, plastics, and many other inventions came in the decades to follow, further changing the face of the industrialized world.

In 1961, Joseph Engelberger sold the first industrial robot to General Motors Corporation, where it performed machine loading and unloading duties in an environment that was hot and dirty, and in fact dangerous to humans. That was 40 years ago…before personal computers and the Internet. A lot of technology evolved that helped make the industrial robot the affordable, successful machine it is today.

A Future in Service Robots?
Who knew all the effects the robot would have? Maybe Mr. Engelberger, often referred to as the ”Father of Robotics,” could foresee much of what was to come. He eventually sold his company, called Unimation, and became a pioneer in service robots, a sector of robotics in its infancy, but which is predicted to eventually exceed the market for industrial robots. He lectures even today that service robots must have the following criteria to succeed:

  • Magnificent physical execution (they have to be really, really good at what they do);
  • Sensory perception (one or more of the five senses, like sight, touch, etc.);
  • A ”quasi-structured” living environment (things have to be predictable)
  • Prior knowledge of their environment and duties (programmed with expert skills and knowledge);
  • A good cost/benefit standard (reasonable cost compared to expected duties).

These are high standards indeed! Most people can do service tasks very efficiently compared to any current robotic alternative. Most service robots would cost far more than human labor does at this time (although Mr. Engelberger did demonstrate a successful business model for a cost-effective system for hospital robot ”gofers” when he created the HelpMate company).

The opportunity for robotics arises when you ask if there are enough skilled people to do certain tasks at a reasonable price, like elder care, an industry greatly lacking in skilled labor and laborers. Much thought has been put into development of robotic helpers for the infirmed and elderly.

Untapped Robot Applications Abound
According to the RIA, 90% of companies with robotic manufacturing applications have not installed their first robot. Yet more than 115,000 robots are installed in the U.S. today, making it second only to Japan. Material handling and assembly are among the leading applications poised for growth within the robotics industry.

The future for robots is bright. But, how will robots affect future generations? Sometimes you can get ideas for the future by looking into the past and thinking about the changes we’ve seen as a result of other great inventions, like the cotton gin, airplane or Internet. Perhaps one day we will have true robotic ”helpers” that guide the blind, assist the elderly. Maybe they’ll be modular devices that can switch from lawn mower to vacuum cleaner, to dish washer and window washer.

Maybe one day ”robots” will be so small they will travel through your blood stream delivering life-saving drugs to eliminate disease. Perhaps they will have a major role in the educational and entertainment industries. Law enforcement and security may become major users of robotics. (Robots already have been deployed for such hazardous tasks as bomb disposal, hostage recovery, and search and rescue operations, including at the World Trade Center.)

Certainly, robots will always have a role in manufacturing. They are invaluable to the trend of product miniaturization, and they provide an economical solution for manufacturing the high-quality products mandated for success in a global economy.

Industrial robots are somewhat underrated in today’s society, but the world owes much to the productivity and quality measures imparted by robotics. Their effect on future generations may well be the assistance they provide in manufacturing faster computers, more intelligent vehicles and better consumer and health products.

Donald A. Vincent, Executive Vice President, RIA, a 25-year veteran of the industry wrote this assessment about the future of robots in the Handbook of Industrial Robotics:

”After a quarter-century of being involved with robotics, I have concluded that the robotics industry is here to stay. And robotics does not stop here. Sojourner (was) the first, but certainly not the last, intelligent robot sent by humans to operate on another planet, Mars. Robotics, robots, and their peripheral equipment will respond well to the challenges of space construction, assembly, and communications; new applications in agriculture, agri-industries, and chemical industries; work in recycling, cleaning, and hazardous waste disposal to protect our environment and the quality of our air and water; safe, reliable and fast transportation relying on robotics in flight and on intelligent highways. Robotics prospered in the 1900s; it will thrive and proliferate in the twenty-first century.”

Throughout the year, more than 10,000 visitors from all over the world turn to Robotics Online for information to help them understand the industry. This editorial is an ”open letter” to students and others with an interest in robotics, and is dedicated to Lisa from Australia, who wrote: ”I am 13 and I was wondering if you had any information on how robots/robotics might effect the future/future generations?”

Recommended reading:

Or if you are like the un-dynamic “demonic” threesome in Buffy, and wish to have your own fembot, one exists, but watch out -she doesn’t like inappropriate touching!

“Aiko is the brainchild of robotics developer Le Trung and the first Canadian android to make a public appearance. The android visited the Ontario Science Centre November 10, 2007. Thank you YouTube Canada for the feature. Hopefully the attention will help get this poor girl the support she needs to get up out of that wheelchair and learn to walk.”

Hope this starts your quest for a Robot of your own….


2 responses to “Robots: Friend or foe?

  1. Hey there just wanted to give you a quick heads up.
    The words in your content seem to be running off the screen in Chrome.
    I’m not sure if this is a format issue or something to do with web browser compatibility but I figured I’d post to let you know.

    The design and style look great though! Hope you get the issue solved soon.