The Rise of the Machines

Last week, it turns out, was National Robotics Week. Actually, the website said that the festivities ran from April 9 to 17. That seems to be a bit of a long week, at least for us humans.

Workplace robotics has a whimsical feel to it, but is a logical next step in unified communications. I posted on this a few months ago; one of the links was to a video from a company called VGO, which manages to simultaneously illustrate the potential benefits of robotics and seems like a satire.

This is serious business, however. Singularity Hub reported late last month that NEC is researching machine/human interaction. The devices they tested aren’t for sale. The bottom line, however, is that robotics is coming:

NEC in Japan developed its Partner-type Personal Robot, or PaPeRo, as a communications platform for research into human-machine interactions. Now, they’re testing the lovable bot as a teleconferencing tool. In a series of experiments in office-like settings, NEC found that users preferred the diminutive device to typical conference phones. Able to recognize faces, respond to touch and speech, swivel its head, and wheel around, PaPeRo could make a very cool table-top telerobot. 
Paul J. Miller, an ex-editor for Engadget, uses his site to write an interesting post comparing today’s robotics to the PC industry before Bill Gates and others came along. It’s a good read. The bottom line is that Microsoft inadvertently advanced the concept with the Kinect. Its sensors, Miller writes, can be used by hackers to push robotics in a way not foreseen by Microsoft. Miller says that there are similarities in the spirit of the people pushing the concept and the early days of the PC industry. The most advanced robot, he says, is the Willow PR2. It should be – the price tag is about $400,000.
Finally, all the humor about robotics fades when its latest use is described. It is ironic that last week was National Robotics Week during the same time that robots got a big assignment: investigating the Fukushima Power Plant. Telepresence Options, which offers three interesting images, reports that the Tokyo Electric Power Company is using iRobot’s military-grade Packbots for the job.

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