ITGS Syllabus

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Topic 172

Reasons why robots are/are not designed as androids with human-like form by Raymon

Robots seem to be the epitome of human progress; sure, there is medicine, construction, and physics, but ever since Aristotle, the idea of bringing an inanimate object to life as our slaves has hung around. Necromancy, Frankenstein, and mind control – these are all methods of getting your way with minimal effort. The idea of robots appeared a little later than these spells from witchcraft, but still before microprocessors. The Tin Man, for example, from the Wizard of Oz, could have been considered a robot.

One thing that we can notice about all these fantastic electronic butlers is that they have always been portrayed in one form or another as humanoids. Perhaps this is because we want to create them in our own image, or perhaps it is because we want something that can do everything and the human body is very versatile. Nonetheless, it is immediately apparent that useful robots, nowadays, do not have humanoid forms, except for the Honda Asimo. The Asimo is an incredible piece of engineering, but it is incredibly impractical and really does no useful tasks except perhaps walk the dog.

Where in the history of the formation and engineering robots has the original image been skewed? The answer in this lies in specialization. In economics, we learned that people specialize in their jobs to reach maximum efficiency as a society. Billy does farming, Joey makes shoes, and Harry fixes toilets; that way, Billy can become really good at farming and Joey can become a master shoe smith(?) and they can trade their goods. With robots, it is the same concept, except in a more extreme form. If Billy, Joey and Harry were three robots, Billy would have a hoe and a rake for arms and would roll around everywhere, Joey would have hammers for arms and would spit nails, and Harry could have a neck 5 meters long with a squishy head. In this way, all the robots can achieve maximum efficiency without any useless functions and the idea of having a humanoid robot that can do everything seems pretty stupid. Of course, we still dream of the Robo-Butler 2000, and that is what the Asimo is striving toward, but it is much easier, at this time, to create specialized robots.

The Roomba, the famous vacuum cleaning robot from iRobot, ONLY vacuums floors, and it is physically limited from doing anything else; it only has a vacuum cleaner attached. The Scooba washes the floors, and that is all it can do. iRobot did not combine these robots, since that would be much more expensive and would result in a larger robot. The Sonicare factory's robots consist of a large number of multi-limbed machines spinning and sticking things together at incredible speeds; they definitely are not humanoids, but they do their jobs admirably.

Finally, it is just so much easier to create robots with wheels instead of legs. We do not move with motors; we move with muscles that contract and relax, so until actuators (Mechanical Muscles that contract to move objects) are perfected, the humanoid form is very unstable and inefficient. Motors are good for rotating things, not moving limbs and lifting heavy loads quickly. Therefore, it is obvious now that non-humanoid, specialized robots are better suited to make with today's technology.


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