Robots in our every day world
Isaac Asimov gave us The Three Laws of Robotics in the short story Runaround published in 1942. In the story, the rules are in the “Handbook of Robotics, 56th Edition, 2058 A.D.”
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
- A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
Robots are becoming part of our everyday world. For years, bomb squads have used robots to defuse bombs by opening questionable packaging or moving them to a containment area. So many bomb squads use robots that there is a robot rodeo held at either Sandia National Laboratory or Los Alamos National Laboratory every year. Teams from all over the United States compete for a trophy while learning to use their robots in different situations they might encounter during their work.
Some companies have behind the scene robots most people will never see. The automotive industry uses robots to weld cars, paint cars, and to install doors, windows, and fenders. GMC employees use a robotic glove when they install tires. The exoskeleton device reduces stress from repetitive movement and adds ten pounds of gripping force to the worker. In Amazon’s warehouse, robots bring shelves to the workers who pick items instead of the worker searching the warehouse. A German company called Magazino just introduced a robot that will actually pick items from shelves.
Robots are becoming more visible in our daily lives too. At the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto, California, a robot security guard patrols the mall and detects suspicious behavior. Hotels are using relay robots to deliver packages to rooms. A Target store in San Francisco tested a robot called Tally for inventory. It is quicker and more accurate than a human and operates safely during normal store hours. OSHbot is working in a hardware store in San Jose. This bilingual robot greets customers and helps them find the item they are looking for. If the customer needs more of an item, for example, a screw or nails, they show the robot’s camera the item and the robot takes the customer to that item. If the customer is looking for a screwdriver and tells the robot that, the robot will lead them to the correct aisle.
Robots are becoming more visible in health care. In Oklahoma, four robots are roaming hospitals, helping to keep them germ-free using ultraviolet light. In Belgium, a robot named Pepper, that speaks 19 languages is a hospital receptionist. A hospital in San Francisco uses a robot named Tug for heavy deliveries such as food and laundry freeing staff for patient care.
Delivery robots are in the near future. Amazon promises drone delivery service, called Prime Air, by 2017 or 2018, and Domino’s demonstrated the world’s first autonomous pizza delivery drone. A delivery robot named Starship has driven 3,200 miles on public sidewalks in Arkansas, London, Estonia, and the San Francisco Bay Area. It uses cameras to navigate sidewalks and avoid people and other obstacles. The locked Starship delivers packages to consumers who unlock the Starship with a code sent via SMS.
Walmart is experimenting with a robotic shopping cart that will help find items on a customer’s shopping list and power the cart. Two companies are working on robots to fold your clothes, and one expects to be included with every Panasonic washer and dryer pair sold after 2018.
All this sounds wonderful, but what about Asimov’s three rules of robotics? Recently, a Russian robot escaped from a lab and snarled traffic for almost an hour. While it might have been a publicity stunt, it certainly caused a traffic jam. Alexander Reben, a roboticist from Berkeley, California created a robot that will purposely and randomly poke people with a pin, defying rule number one. Amazingly enough lots of people are willing to see if the artificially intelligent machine will poke them. In February 2016, the Daily Mail in the UK published a fear mongering storyon robotics. Robots are here to stay and they are making life easier for everyone. Whether we really need Asimov’s laws is yet to be seen.
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