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November 28, 2011

Twenty Robots to Be Displayed at London's Robotville Festival

There are new developments in the field of robotics with an upcoming exhibit in London showing off some of the progress. In addition, companies such as GeckoSystems are coming up with new applications in the field, too.

Some 20 robots will be on display during the Robotville Festival at The Science Museum in London between Dec. 2 and 4. The museum says the robots are unique, innovative and offer cultural significance.

The robot’s human builders will be available to show off the robots and explain the devices.

“Robotville will communicate the current state of play – where everything is at when it comes to robot structures, robot abilities and robot appearances,” Nick Hawkes, a lecturer at the University of Birmingham, told TNT Magazine. Hawkes worked on Dora, who will be on display.

“If Dora goes into a room and finds a kettle, she will label the room a kitchen. If you then ask her to go and fetch a box of cornflakes, she will be programmed to know that the cornflakes are likely to be in the same room as a kettle, and when she gets there, she will work out what kind of areas are likely to hold the cornflakes,” Hawkes told TNT Magazine.

Another robot in the museum display is Concept. Visitors can see his expression change the robot watches and learns from human visitors.

Hawkes says robots continue to be more useful. “I can imagine robots doing menial, automated tasks in prisons, hospitals, hotels – places where there are a consistent set of requests,” Hawkes told TNT Magazine.

“But robots that can do everything are a long way off. … A humanoid robot, one that can go upstairs or open a door or even identify and pick up a glass it hasn’t seen before is going to be hard,” he said.

In addition, Alan Winfield, a specialist in engineering at UWE Bristol, told TNT Magazine that robots have potential to “understand not just human speech but gestures, expressions and body language as well.”

“In 10, 15 or even 20 years, we’ll have far more automated transport – whole metro systems,” he added. “I think we’re very close to having driverless cars already – the main problems to do with those are insurance and social acceptance.”

There are some ethical dilemmas about the use of robots, however.

“When robots are used to care for the vulnerable or the elderly or children – some roboticists are worried about robots being used as substitutes for people in those roles,” Winfield said. “Robots can be very useful in therapeutic roles, particularly with autistic children, for example, but they should not replace that human contact – they should be an addition.”

In a related matter, initial tests of GeckoSystems’ new "collision proof" wheelchair are complete. Videos on the company’s website show the safety features of a power wheelchair upgraded with GeckoSystems technology. You can view videos by clicking here.

Meanwhile, Winfield says he is opposed to turning robots into part of a military force.

“We should not put guns on robots…. They do not have the sensory sophistication or artificial intelligence to make that kind of decision. That’s partly a technical argument but it’s also a moral one – should we have robots to fight our wars for us?”

In related news, an unnamed defense manufacturer from the United Kingdom may work with GeckoSystems in the United States and Europe.

The UK-based company features “semi-autonomous unmanned vehicles” which can travel either in the air or on the ground.

"We have diligently searched for a sophisticated defense contractor who would be cognizant of the potentially lethal applications of robotic software technologies," Martin Spencer, president/CEO, GeckoSystems International, said in a company statement that appeared on TMCnet.

Ed Silverstein is a TMCnet contributor. To read more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Rich Steeves

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