Saturday, November 29, 2008

Bots and automation.

The more I think about automation, the more it makes sense to me. Robotics is the same. Of course the two are rather hard to distinguish between. For years I've been looking forward to having my own personal robot. But as the technology advances, a general consensus is forming that personal robotics won't consist of a single "do it all" machine. There will be a plethora of devices that will operate invisibly aound you, and appear only when you seek it out.

Think about it. Today we're at the point where a lot of automation is going on in the background of our everyday lives. Not a lot of big, noticeable machines. Rather, dozens of inconspicuous single function devices. Possibly several dozen in your workplace alone. Off the top of my head, where I work, there are roughly fifteen automatic procedures, and "set it and forget it" items. Or to use the term the manager does, "bots". I blogged about that before. In the average home there are clothes washers & dryers, dish washers, programmable thermostats for fuel efficent furnaces, and most recently, "smart" kitchen ovens and ranges. Refrigerators will be next. The trick there will be the home network.

In the wider world, here in the UP of MI, traffic flow is regulated by simple sensors embedded in the roads. "Auto"-mobiles are getting smarter all the time. Sensors in the keyrings will ID who you are. From there, a crapload of functions happen. Did your spouse or kid drive the car last? Either pressing the "unlock" button on the palm- sized remote, or even placing the key into the lock will instantly readjust the driver's seat to your preferences. Put the key into the ignition, and the GPS will ask "where to today?" They e-mail you now to let you know of service needed. And eventually they will be able to drive themselves, using GPS, and following the lines painted in the road. In Vernor Vinge's book, Rainbows End, autos simply line up and wait for passengers. You don't need a car? Surprise, the roads are clear for pedestrian traffic. But look for one, and within just a few minutes a car is waiting on you! Cars will perhaps be the closest to personal robotics that was predicted decades ago. That, and children's toys.

Toys will be hugely automated. Pick a favorite character: Elmo. Have you seen the Elmo live toy, yet? How about the Golden Retriever? No? Well, then, there is a hobby horse that does pretty much the same thing. Everythng responds to touch sensors. Remember Furby? Toys WILL be the "go fetch me a drink" item. Nothing taller than three feet. And of course everything connected to your home net. "Robotoy, I want a beer." the home net hears your request to the toy, and as the small bot waddles to the kitchen, the fridge scans its contents, asks via an active speaker, either the TV, Stereo, PC, or cellphone, "Bud or Miller?" Depending on how much the toy waddles, you might want to wait a few minutes for the can to settle before opening it.

On the horizon is a really cool technology called "augmented reality". There are several applications for it already. But the one that is gonna break wide open is interactive characters. Japan has already put its foot in the door with an item called ARis:

From this point, computing tech will do a paradigm shift. Complete emphasis on the cloud. And wearable hardware. That's when AI will really come into its own. And I've always believed that AI is hardware independent. Intelligent robotics. Which kind of brings me full circle for this blog.

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