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TRANSCENDENT ACCELERATING CHANGE IN ROBOTICS

Posted by: Tom Atwood

The world is racing forward faster than most people realize. Here are three examples that suggest the coming times. Foxconn in China is building a factory that will create 20,000 jobs. The workers will build one million robots over the next three years that will displace 500,000 workers once deployed, as reported by the Chinese. Observers ask, how will the displaced workers fare and is this a net benefit to society beyond the obvious benefits to Foxconn?

 

DARPA is now “crowdsourcing” the development of a next generation UAV, a flying robot. As reported in the October 17 issue of Aviation Week, DARPA has created uavforge.net, an open, web-based collaboration portal that invites ad hoc teams worldwide to build a “perch and stare” unmanned aircraft “small enough to be carried in a rucksack and able to take off vertically, fly 2 mi., perch and provide surveillance in an urban setting for 2 hr., then fly back and land vertically.” DARPA hopes the outcome will produce a design that is cheaper to procure and easier to operate than the Aerovironment Shrike quadrotor shown. DARPA is offering $100,000 prize in a tiered competition. On a personal note, you will find it a hoot to review the entries.

 

The most limiting factor in the next generation fighter if you consider manned aircraft is not software or hardware, it is the squishy human being in the cockpit. The next generation of fighter aircraft will not have pilots. And the technologies UAVs will use, whether full size aircraft or man-portable, are bewilderingly progressive. Dr. Lora G. Weiss, chief scientist of the Transportation and Advanced Systems Laboratory at Georgia Tech Research Institute, reports in the October 24/31 issue of Aviation Week that this new generation of UAVs will include some remarkable technologies. “Sensors embedded in thin films that constitute lightweight skins and are powered by energy harvested from their environment will become evident in small UAVs.” She notes that the autonomy of these small UAVs will continue to advance and that this will relieve both communications and energy issues.

 

The robotics world is evolving far more quickly than ever as different technologies converge into new solutions—making Moore’s Law look a little bit like molasses.