30 June 2008

Never Send a Man to do a Robot's Job

Robots are more suitable for many jobs than are humans--once robots achieve the same degree of decision-making competence that expert humans acquire through experience. But since it will probably be a few decades before machines acquire human-level or better intelligence and mental adaptability, another approach called "telepresence" will be quite useful. Telepresence allows a human operator to become immersed in a virtual or real-remote environment, using robotic manipulators and sensors as his eyes, ears, arms and hands.
Telexistence is fundamentally a concept named for the general technology that enables a human being to have a real-time sensation of being at a place other than where he or she actually exists, and being able to interact with the remote environment, which may be real, virtual, or a combination of both. It also refers to an advanced type of teleoperation system that enables an operator at the control to perform remote tasks dexterously with the feeling of existing in a surrogate robot working in a remote environment. We have developed "TELESAR" for realization of the telexistence. Telexistence in the real environment through a virtual environment is also possible. __Tachilab_via_Gizmowatch
The robot pictured above is the TELESAR2 robot for use with the telexistence system at Tachilab. It does not look or act like a real person, but allow for improvement in future robot design and someday it might. Having a real person in control of a remote robot that looks and acts exactly like him/her should provide an imaginative person with some fascinating opportunities. But I digress.

Remote manipulation is already becoming common in the surgical suite, in research labs, on space stations, and on the battlefield. UAVs and UGVs are increasingly being used to patrol battle zones, border areas, and potential crime scenes. It is only a matter of time before human passengers are ferried about by remotely piloted and operated vehicles. Or maybe the human "passengers" will send their robots instead in their place?

With ubiquitous wireless internet coverage over the globe, it will become possible for ordinary persons to go to the highest peaks and the deepest undersea trenches remotely, with the reality of the experience limited only by the bandwidth and reliability of the data link, along with the quality of the hardware at both ends.

David Brin's SF thriller Kiln People describes a world where we can send intelligent copies of ourselves out into the world to perform tasks we may not have time for, or may not wish to do personally. Telepresence is not the same thing, because it would be difficult to control more than one robot at a time. Still, a clever person might find a way to take advantage of "down time" at one location to put in an appearance at another location.

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