2014: The Year Of The Robot!

Is 2014 the year of the robot? Read on for our opinion.

I’ve been waiting for this year for a long time! Finally… FINALLY… I’m sensing that this is the Year of the Robot. I’ve been promised this year all my life from the earliest TV shows to the latest Robocop movie so I’m glad it’s finally here.

Google’s purchase of major military robot maker Boston Dynamics is the marker. Combining the Big G’s powerful algorithms and those ominous walking machines means that all the component pieces are now ready to be built together.

At the other end of the spectrum of robotic technology are the hobbyist components that can be formed into home-brew robots.

I spent my Christmas break building a 4-wheel drive robot that combines a Raspberry Pi with an Arduino control board. The Raspberry Pi is being taught to follow a red ball using its HD camera, and compares that to an image of the red ball it has stored in memory. It works out the difference between where the red ball is in the viewfinder and its ideal image, and send commands to the Arduino to move the 4 wheel drive motors in such a way that it ‘thinks’ will align the two balls. If the ball in the viewfinder is too small, the robot will move forward. If too large, backwards. If too much to the left, a right ‘spin’ is applied, and so forth.

Neither the Raspberry Pi or Arduino are powerful computers, but they are cheap, can run off batteries and give a complete whiteboard on which to experiment. The limit is your imagination – all you need is a sense of how to program. Those of us with some programming experience can even teach the Raspberry Pi to program itself – using the original robot control program to learn and write out adapted source code which it then proceeds to run. Adapting and evolving as its environment changes, the robot will learn more and adjust as it gains experience.

At the powerful end of the scale, I think it’s only a matter of time before robots reach ‘sentience’ – that is, a sense of their own existence. Once we get there, I’m quite sure a whole moral landscape will be encountered; a landscape that starts with the question: Do robots dream of electric sheep?

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