Everybody that knows me knows my fascination for robotics. Recently, I have been fixated by the idea of a soft-bodied mobile robot - more precisely, a teddy bear stuffed with electronics and a small brain. You see, I believe that simplicity is key to jump starting the robotic revolution. Instead of mimicking every human joint using mechanical devices to build a humanoid, I find it much more effective and efficient to look into design techniques which yield similar results but by a heavily reduced complexity factor. This is why I am stuffing a teddy bear with a simple skeleton made up of six moving parts. For the last few nights I have spent some time realizing my design for a robotic teddy bear. After a few hours of work the teddy is already stuffed with all the necessary electronics and I have created my first prototype.
Below some impressions:
For all those interested, below is a copy of the introduction in my Bachelor Thesis...
What happened to the robotic revolution? Looking back at old technology and mechanics magazines from the 1950's, one cannot help but muse at the wild expectations people had regarding the future of robots. Often portrayed was a bizarre mix of people and machines, living together in a society with the robot as man's new best friend. Some went to the extent to predict a new race of slaves which would serve mankind by the 1960’s – as did the 1957 Mechanix Illustrated article You’ll own Slaves by 1965 (Binder, 1957). The predictions from last century are far from reality. Not only has the progression of the robot been much slower than expected, traversing a very subtle path, but also its role in society has been completely redefined from the original conceptions. Instead of serving us breakfast in the morning, cleaning our living space during the day, and taking our hat and coat from us when we return in the evening, as depicted in the 1940 film Leave It To Roll-Oh (Handy, 1940), robots have found their birthplace in the factory. There they toil away all day, and sometimes night, performing mundane routine tasks over and over. Looking at such a machine, with its precise movements and repetitive activities, its hard edges and vacuous appearance; it has little resemblance of ourselves. Is not the robot supposed to be mankind’s birth-child?
The robotic revolution has not yet undergone in the scale and realm so many thought it would. What then has kept it? Does the robot just need more time to develop and grow, or is our concept of the robot fundamentally flawed? A long standing problem in the field of robotics is the perception of the environment. To us humans, this is a trivial task. We see, hear, and touch our environment around us, combining these senses to form a somewhat indescribable organic perception of the world (Thorpe, Clatz, Duggins, Gowdy, MacLachlan, & Ryan, 2001). It is here, at one of the most essential parts of our defining quality, where the robot has stumbled. The ability to perceive the environment and comprehend its implications is the first step in actively being a part of it. Only then can a robot take it’s prematurely crowned role of being mankind’s helper. For thousands of years we have tried to understand our perceptions, starting with primitive cave drawings and slowly mastering perception with realistic paintings. However, teaching robots to understand perception has proven very difficult, even though a robot can easily imitate its environment through the form of radar, sonar, lidar, or visual images.
After forty years of dedicated efforts on a global scale, robots still have trouble recognizing our face, they move carefully through our world with a slow pace, and are shy to interact. They just barely have learned how to walk (Webb, 2001). In many ways, the robot is still a toddler – unable but eager to explore the world. However, they are growing faster and faster. Each year we are introduced to new robots that are superior in perception and mobility. Each year new robots join our daily lives in some fashion or another. Our question remains; when will we be able to christen this century as the Century of Robotics?
Over the weekend I built a little robot using the BASIC Stamp microprocessor.
I created a custom case so I can mount some sensors on it. A video will follow eventually :) .