The 80's were the decade of the personal computer and the 90's the decade of
the Internet. And while both technologies become even greater parts of our
lives, it appears that the first decade of the new millenium will be
dominated by robotics.
The first bread of personal robots, on display at the Robodex 2000
exhibition in Japan, do not wash dishes or mow the yard -- they are simply
entertainment robots that dance or ask silly questions.
Robodex, the first
robotic exhibition of its kind, is bringing together the Aibo lion-cub pet
robot from Sony Corp., the biped walking Asimo robot from Honda Motor Co.
and a variety of other machines from universities and companies.
The exhibition is being held largely because of the first widely
successfully home entertainment robot, the Sony Aibo. The
Aibo, a robotic
pet that walks, plays and responds to orders such as "sit" and "roll over"
has sold more than 45,000 units this year and has gained worldwide fame.
Toy makers have already attempted to duplicate the success of the Aibo with
a series of cheaper imitations. The offerings from toy companies such as
Tomy Co. and Takara Co. are also on display at the exhibition.
While the robot pets are getting some attention, it may be the humanoid
style of robots that will receive the greatest interest. Sony, the
developer of the Aibo, has created a prototype humanoid called SDR-3X. SDR
is an acronym for ``Sony Dream Robot". The SDR-3X is a 20" tall robot that
kicks a soccer ball and dances. Another offering, this one from Honda
Motor Co., is the Asimo, a 4-foot, 95-pound robot. Like the SDR-3X, the
robot is in an experimental stage of development and can't do much more than
wave or dance. However, Honda is hoping that with the integration of
voice-recognition and the ability to identify faces, it can turn this robot
into a type of virtual demonstrator for vehicle showrooms.
The Asimo, which stands for ``advanced step in innovative mobility,'' is the
third prototype since Honda began robot research in 1986. It is a smaller
and lighter version of the previous 5-foot, 290-pound P3 model. It can
move in ways that resembes human movement, with the ability to change
directions while walking and the gracefulness to combine hand and leg
movement for dance like simulation.
Industrial types of robots have previously been used in manufacturing plants
or even to assist in rescue efforts. Many researchers have hope that
future versions of the robots may help humans in doing tasks such as washing
dishes although this is probably a decade away from reality. Until then, we
are likely to see new versions of entertainment robots that continue to
evolve. They will introduce new features at regular intervals and the
prices will undoubtedly drop for the "low-end" models such as the $1500