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Robots v. humans: Real steel or dumb metal?

Michael Cooney | Nov. 3, 2011
Right from the start let's agree that the argument of humans or robots is getting close to being a dead heat in some areas. With advances in artificial intelligence and complex software, many robots are close to performing some duties better than their human counterparts.

Right from the start let's agree that the argument of humans or robots is getting close to being a dead heat in some areas. With advances in artificial intelligence and complex software, many robots are close to performing some duties better than their human counterparts.

For example, NASA and General Motors built the 300 pound Robonaut2 - or R2 - a robot that is capable of using the same tools as humans and now works alongside them in space onboard the International Space Station. R2 can use its hands to do work beyond the scope of prior humanoid machines and can easily work safely alongside people, a necessity both on Earth and in space, NASA stated. It is also stronger: able to lift, not just hold, a 20-pound weight (about four times heavier than what other dexterous robots can handle) both near and away from its body. Granted the robot takes up valuable space station space, but it doesn't have to be fed or go to the bathroom - major advantages in space.

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Other robots such as the Octoroach being developed by UC Berkeley researchers can crawl into all manner of super-secret surveillance or emergency recovery applications that the human body just could not. The Octoroach is an eight-legged, sensor-laden, battery-powered device that can find its own way around a room and climb over obstacles. Its compliant, rather than rigid legs let it effectively mimic a cockroach scrambling across the floor.

Other robots such the REMUS 6000 autonomous underwater system recently conducted a 3,900 square mile search of Atlantic Ocean bottom looking for the deep-sea wreck site and black boxes from Air France Flight 447, which crashed off the coast of Brazil two years ago. The autonomous undersea vehicles are designed to operate in depths up to 6,000 meters (19,685 feet or 3.73 miles) and are capable of staying underwater for up to 20 hours. Human searches of the area never found anything, but the bots did.

But while robots can in certain areas achieve what humans cannot, you only have to look as far as say the products that are thought of and designed by the humans at Apple. Or look at the way humans can interact as a group to bring about social change -at least sometimes anyway. Getting robots to act as a group is a science that is only beginning to take shape.

Humans, at least some of them, still have feelings and emotions that robots just cannot mimic. Though some robots are getting close. Japanese researchers this year showed off a dentistry-training robot that can flinch, gag, blink and try to carry on a conversation with cotton stuffed in its mouth - effectively mimicking a real human visit to the dentist.

 

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