Monday, March 14, 2005

year of the robot in japan

Japan Declares 2005 "Year of the Robot"

The Japanese fondness for robots is no secret. Now, scientists and government authorities have informally delcared 2005 the "year of the robot." This coincides with a major robot expo opening in Nagoya later this month, as well as a new generation of humanoid robots that can converse with humans in multiple languages.

"Ms. Saya" is a humanoid robot who has worked as a receptionist for Tokyo Univiersity of Science for two years. Says professor Hiroshi Kobayashi, her inventor, "I almost feel like she's a real person," but that, "She has a temper . . . and she sometimes makes mistakes, especially when she has low energy."



While people in the US would find the presence of such a robot unsettling to say the least, Ms. Saya and her counterparts are becoming so common in Japan that the government is drawing up safety guidelines for keeping robots in homes. Indeed, robotics experts predict that every Japanese household will own at least one robot by 2015.

Among the other robots under development in Japan: a babysitter that can recognize childrens' faces and call parents in case of emergency, a "robo-cop" security guard that can detect and thwart intruders (using non-lethal means), robot pets that provide therapy for the elderly, a robotic wheelchair that can can navigate traffic via GPS, and robotic servants that can serve food from a refrigerator upon request.

The Japanese government is investing billions in robot R&D. But why such intense interest in robots there? Japan's low birthrate and aging population, for one, are creating a need for nonhuman workers. Japan also has a tradition of creating robot-like mechanical toys that goes back well over a century (baby boomers will recall that it was Japan that brought us Astro Boy). Interests in robotics is even connected to Japanese religion. Says Norihiro Hagita, director of the ATR Intelligent Robotics and Communication Laboratories, "In Japanese [Shinto] religion, we believe that all things have gods within them. But in Western countries, most people believe in only one God. For us, however, a robot can have an energy all its own."

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

artifical muscles

AN DIEGO -- Six years ago, Jet Propulsion Laboratory researcher Yoseph Bar-Cohen challenged scientists to create an artificial arm that could beat a human in an arm-wrestling match. The catch: The arm must be made of a pliable plastic material controlled by electrical impulses. In other words, no motors allowed.

Monday, in front of a battalion of TV cameras and an audience of hundreds, three groups of scientists took on Bar-Cohen's challenge -- and failed. One of the robot arms seemed to flop helplessly, while the other two quickly fell to a 17-year-old high-school student.

Even if they had worked, the devices wouldn't have been ready for arm-wrestling competitions on ESPN: One relied on a potentially dangerous hydrochloric acid reaction, while another was powered by a strong electric current.

Nonetheless, Bar-Cohen still looked ecstatic after most of the media had left the International Society for Optical Engineering's Smart Structures/NDE conference. He hadn't expected anyone to take up his arm-wrestling dare for 20 years, and now one of the artificial arms managed to hold off the teenager for nearly a half-minute. "This is a major step," he said. "But it's a tough challenge."

It could mean the transformation of robots from large, clunky, motor-driven devices -- think of the robot arm that helped put together your car -- into sleek, sturdy, self-contained machines. You know, like humans.

"There could be some point where you can have a robot dog, not walking like a machine, but walking like a dog," said Bar-Cohen, a tireless advocate for the technology. "Or maybe a cheetah robot running on Mars instead of slowly rolling, climbing a mountain like we climb a mountain."

Humans and animals, after all, don't come with drive shafts and gears and wheels. Bar-Cohen and others expect that the artificial muscles will revolutionize prosthetics, allowing disabled people to more easily move their limbs.

For now, though, Ben-Cohen's dream muscles -- all made from plastics known as electroactive polymers -- are fairly primitive. The challenge is making the plastics bend and move with only a nudge from an electronic impulse, just like human muscles. Giving them the powerful strength of a live person is even harder.

Among other things, scientists have used the polymer technology to create a robotic fish and several traditional machines, but humanlike parts are still on the drawing board.

In the highly publicized arm-wrestling matches held Monday, each of the entrants tried to produce a "very simple arm that bends against the human hand," Ben-Cohen said. "There's no fancy capabilities to it, but with time we will increase the requirements."

The best-performing arm, created by a New Mexico company called Environmental Robots, was white and tapered toward the top, a bit like a bowling pin. Panna Felsen, a San Diego-area high-school student, took 24 seconds to push down the arm, which was controlled through power leads connected to two artificial muscles.

Felsen needed even less time to vanquish the second "arm" -- actually a small, polelike device with a round ball on the end designed by a Swiss laboratory. The arm was part of a 44-pound contraption powered by heavy voltage; Felsen had to wear a protective glove.

The final team, engineering students from Virginia Tech, used fishing lines to connect a fiberglass arm to several tubes holding gel fibers. The fibers were supposed to react with hydrochloric acid, pulling the fibers and moving the arm. It didn't work, apparently because the reaction took place too slowly.

Steven Deso, a senior, acknowledged that the arm had never beaten anyone before: "We had very little time for testing. We were focusing on safety." (Felsen wore safety goggles during the brief match.) But the students were still happy to have completed their project in just six months. "We met our goal," Deso said.

In many ways, of course, the arm-wrestling matches weren't fair fights.

The artificial arms hardly have the flexibility of the real thing, and a professional arm-wrestler pointed out that there's more to the sport than simple arm and shoulder power. "Arm-wrestling is your whole body," involving muscles from the

legs to the back, along with the pectorals and others, said Allen Fisher, who has won 21 titles.

Fisher said he was impressed by the robot arms, however, and predicted that once perfected, "they'll help a lot of people."

Artificial muscles may prove a boon for filmmakers. Richard Landon, who helped create the special effects for AI and the Jurassic Park movies, said technological advances could revolutionize his industry, allowing fake human characters -- or, say, velociraptors -- to free themselves from motors and look more natural.

For now though, Landon said, "it looks like we're not quite there yet."

End of story

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

robots and japan

Mobile Robots: The Here and How
By Steve Wallage, Tue Mar 01 08:45:00 GMT 2005

Mobile robots conjure up a sci-fi view of the future; but they are increasingly becoming a reality, with entertainment, rather than robotic servitude, leading the way.


Mark Frauenfelder's intriguing recent article talked about some of the developments in mobile robotics, as well as opening the debate about how and where such robots should be used. While this debate goes on, a new wave of robots are being launched, unsurprisingly in the Japanese market, with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth playing a key role.

The three main sectors for mobile robots have been entertainment, tasks around the house and business or military applications. While doing the mundane tasks have often been behind early successes -- such as iRobot's Roomba, a self-navigating vacuum cleaner, which sells for just $200 and has shipped over 500,000 units since its launch in 2002 -- the key driver is now entertainment. Japan's Emerging Technology Fair, part of the Future Creation Fair, in August 2004, highlighted this trend, but the launch of the sexily named W21T (more appropriately known as the Bluetooth robot) now reinforces it.

It is difficult to quite describe the Bluetooth robot. It's officially described as a bipedal robot, but looks like a cross between a toy and a 1950s writer's vision of an apocalyptic future. Looks notwithstanding, it can do such things as walk, jump, kick and wave its hands, all controlled by Bluetooth from a mobile handset. The self-assembly robot is operated by downloading instructions from the Internet to the mobile device, which are then stored, using a BREW application on KDDI's network. The $1900 robot was developed by I Bee in Japan, and it has its own servo motors and gyro sensors. For those with an interest in the history of robotics, it is based on the work of the Japanese godfather of robotics, Jin Sato, and his C1 model.

Entertainment With Practical Applications

But even in Japan, entertainment is not enough. To bolster sales, KDDI and I Bee have plans for the Bluetooth robot including turning it into a roving home security camera. Other practical applications will be based on the fact that Bluetooth provides bi-directional communication.?
This has already been used by the iconic and quirky Aibo from Sony, which aims to replicate the emotional as well as physical benefits of a pet. Using its on-board camera, AIBO can send pictures to your mobile phone. Rather than something as unimaginative as home security, Sony's marketing team have dreamed up the killer app as AIBO taking pictures of your kids which you can see and store on your mobile phone.

Another Japanese company that has done a lot of robotic work, Epson, has launched its FR-II micro-flying robot, a Bluetooth-controlled helicopter. However, apparently there have been attempts to use the device for transporting messages and small objects, given it can fly for around three minutes. The hope is that it can, within the next two years, be used by the emergency services in rescue missions.

A more practical model is the Ifbot, from Dream Supply, an early example of what the Japanese can look forward to at home. Aimed at the elderly population, it supposedly and rather patronizingly aims to battle "age-driven senility". Having the conversational abilities of a typical Japanese five-year-old, it neatly fits the linguistic restrictions of the robot and supposedly the capabilities of the older Japanese. It is on sale for around $5,500.

However, future versions show the more interesting capabilities of the Ifbot. These include an English-speaking version to help Japanese schoolchildren learn the language, and for the older user, the next version is planned to allow the reading of news, the monitoring of health functions and the ability to alert doctors in the case of medical emergency.

Not to miss out on the party, businesses are a major target for the mobile robot manufacturers. A good example of a current model is PatrolBot, which uses Wi-fi for "environmental" testing. It can also be used for remote surveillance. Although details are unsurprisingly limited, it seems mobile robots also played a part in collecting information in Iraq. The Sony iRobot was used in areas considered too dangerous for humans, including exploring potentially hostile buildings or terrain and sending images back to the military operations center.

Onto The Future

The future for mobile robots is far from clear. The Japanese version of this future shows increasing emotional intelligence, as well as a rather unsettling similarity to humans -- see, for example, the Honda ASIMO "humanoid robot". They also have the rather quaint notion of self-dependency for the robots. Future versions of the Sony iRobot, for example, will be able to dock themselves to recharge, and clean themselves. This is a more serious issue in the business market, where concern over maintenance and servicing costs have been a key obstacle to the take up of mobile robots.

As for today, it is clear that Bluetooth is the key short-range technology and the basis of remote control of the mobile robots. It also shows the potential of machine to machine mobile communications, a vision of the mobile future long championed by the Japanese.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

talking dolls for old japanese

As Japan goes grey, toymakers design dolls for the elderly

Wed Feb 23,11:29 AM ET

TOKYO (AFP) - As Japan produces fewer children and more retirees, toymakers are designing new dolls designed not for the young but for the lonely elderly -- companions which can sleep next to them and offer caring words they may never hear otherwise.

Photo
AFP/File Photo

Talking toys have become such a hit that some elderly people have embraced them as substitutes for the children who have grown old and deserted entire neighborhoods in the rapidly greying country.

The Yumel doll, which looks like a baby boy and has a vocabulary of 1,200 phrases, is billed as a "healing partner" for the elderly and goes on the market Thursday at a price of 8,500 yen (80 dollars).

About 8,000 Yumel dolls, designed by toymaker Tomy with pillows and bedding maker Lofty, have already been sold in less than three months in limited marketing in sleeping sections of department stores.

"Toymakers are targeting senior citizens as the number of children is falling. We are also striving to attract them," said Osamu Kiriseko, who headed the Yumel project.

Another toymaker, Bandai, in November 1999 launched the Primopuel doll which is meant to resemble a five-year-old boy who needs the same sort of attention, asking to be hugged and entertained.

The toy has proved a hit not only with children but with the elderly and more than one million dollars have been sold over the past five years.

On November 13, Bandai went to a Tokyo amusement park to celebrate the fifth "birthday" of Primopuel, inviting doll owners to pay homage at a nearby shrine in a ritual just like parents of real Japanese five-year-olds do that month.

"There has been demand for dolls which can 'heal' you but toys available on the market were mostly for daytime," said Kiriseko.

"I thought that you need to enjoy the night together if you really hope to live with a doll."

The 37-centimeter (15-inch) Yumel -- deriving from the Japanese word "yume", or "dream" -- looks like a sleepy baby boy but is equipped with six sensors and an IC chip which keep track of the owner's sleeping time.

The doll can be programmed to "sleep" or "wake up" in accordance with the owner's pattern, saying "good morning" with open eyes at due time or inviting the elderly to sleep with the doll's eyelids drooping.

"I feel so good, g-o-o-d n-i-g-h-t," the doll says before falling asleep if the owner pats it on the chest gently.

Or Yumel may ask, "Aren't you pushing yourself too hard?" when it judges the owner has been going to bed too irregularly or not spending enough time playing with it.

"If you lead an orderly life, Yumel will be in a good mood, singing songs or pleading with you to do something like buying him toys," Kiriseko said.

He said the doll could serve as a more suitable companion for the elderly than man's best friend.

"The market for this doll overlaps with a market of dogs, cats and other pets," he said. "But some older people worry about the possibility of dying and leaving their loved pets behind."


Some 500 customers have sent in comments since October, many of them hailing the changes to their lives since Yumel entered the picture, with a 95-year-old woman the oldest respondent.

"Thank you for giving me a heart-warming baby. I'm no longer alone," an 82-year-old woman wrote while another senior woman said she was raising the doll "as my own child".

Some customers are so much in love with the doll that they are troubled by casual questions it asks.

"Some say they cannot give Yumel good answers when it asks questions such as 'Why do elephants have long noses?'" Kiriseko said.

"You may think they don't have to answer as it's just a doll who's asking, but they are truly perplexed," Kiriseko said.

The toymaker found a solution in the new-version Yumel: The doll's statement has been modified from a question to the statement, "It's interesting elephants have long noses."

Japan is a country with one of the world's lowest birth rates and oldest populations. The nation's birth rate hit an all-time low of 1.29 children per woman in 2003.

The government said Monday that Japan's population rose a mere 0.05 percent in the year to October 2004 and could decline this year for the first time since records began in 1950.

Traditionally, the eldest son was expected to live with their parents as they grew older and many young Japanese still stay at home for financial reasons as Japan has some of the world's highest rents.

But the custom is fading out in the younger generation as more Japanese singles choose to live independently and favor careers and lifestyles over the pressures of having children and taking care of their parents.

The Japanese are also famous for their longevity, with more than 23,000 people aged 100 or over.

In December, a software firm released on the market a 45-centimeter (18-inch) robot for the elderly named Snuggling Ifbot, who is dressed in an astronaut suit with a glowing face.

If a person tells Snuggling Ifbot, "I'm bored today," the 576,000 yen (5,600-dollar) robot might respond, "Are you bored? What do you want to do?"

To a statement, "Isn't it nice today?", the robot could say, "It is a fine autumn day," by detecting the season from its internal clock.

The robot's maker Dream Supply said the Snuggling Ifbot had the conversation ability of a five-year-old -- considered just enough for small talk to keep the elderly from going senile.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

robots buidling cities on mars

V
IEW|sterling

François Roche is a French architect whose firm, R&Sie, is aptly pronounced "heresy." Among his brainchildren is Dusty Relief, an edifice under construction in Bangkok which is surrounded by electrically charged wire that "grows fur" by statically attracting airborne filth. He has also conceived stealth habitats, hypothetical communities hidden from regulators and critics by vast sheets of camo netting. Architects are supposed to draw up plans, erect structures, and finish on time and under budget. Roche is exploring what happens when the usual constraints are allowed to fall away and things get wild and loose.

As a master of conceptual architecture, Roche likes to collaborate with installation artists. This tactic allows him to avoid hidebound European safety regulations when he proposes, for instance, a steel footbridge whose design, sketched using industry-standard CAD software, has been radically distorted by a computer virus. Ask Europeans to cross a buggy footbridge and they'll balk, quail, and consult the 80,000 regulatory pages of the EU's acquis communautaire. Tell them it's art, and they'll flock to it in droves, sit on it, and drink Beaujolais nouveau.

Roche's latest project will appear in museums in Paris and Antwerp over the next three years. Titled I've Heard About Node 1, it's as audacious as architecture's peaks of weirdness in the '60s; say, the Suitaloon, a combination garment and dwelling proposed by Michael Webb of the London hipster firm Archigram. And yet Roche's scheme is not just fun to think about, but eerily plausible. He's exploiting ideas that make perfect sense in computer-driven fabrication but have never been applied to architecture. Imagine a building where the needs and desires of its inhabitants are hot-wired to the shapes of walls and floors, which can be extended and updated ad hoc, ad infinitum.

That's Node 1. It's an idea for a building, yes, but it lacks most of the usual architectural accoutrements: blueprints, material suppliers, subcontractors. Instead, Roche imagines a programmable assembly device dubbed the "viab," a construction robot capable of improvising as it assembles walls, ducts, cables, and pipes.

A viab would produce structures that are not set and specific, but impermanent and malleable - merely viable - made of a uniform, recyclable substance like adobe. The automaton's output would have no innate design, boundaries, or service life. It would take whatever form was called for at the moment - a great rotting blooming stony bubble of a building that, unlike all previous forms of human habitation, would be unplanned, responsive, densely monitored, massively customized, and rock-solid, with all modern conveniences.

The closest thing to a viab today is a small, modest mud-working robot invented by Behrokh Khoshnevis, a professor of engineering at the University of Southern California. Khoshnevis' "contour crafter" works more or less like a 3-D printer, but it's meant to assemble whole buildings. Its nozzle spits wet cement while a programmable trowel smoothes the goo into place. Roche encountered Khoshnevis, and his agile imagination immediately started pushing the idea toward its limits.

The concept isn't as alien as it may seem; nature has been doing something similar for eons. Termites build skyscrapers by spitting and smoothing mud, then removing the structure if it gets in the way. A mound is shaped by the activity of the society within it. Roche imagines his viab as a busy termite with a body full of wet cement. It crawls ceaselessly across the structure, spewing new form and gnawing out old form, obeying an algorithm directly linked to the needs of the people inside.

It can also work without people entirely. The moon or Mars would be a natural venue for the concept, a place too hostile for mankind, where viabs could work around the clock: Let robots spit out a city, then settle in when it's ready.

It might be a long time before a scheme this weird is realized. But suppose it is. Churchill once said, "We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us." He was thinking about how nations evolve over generations, but in Node 1, those processes would play out once a week. The old brick-and-mortar rules would be gone, as though the crowded playa at Burning Man were to raise up mud castles rivaling the Transamerica Pyramid.

Do we need a capacity like that? It's impossible to say, because the notion is genuinely heretical. It's not every day that an age-old discipline like architecture coughs up an anomaly that's unthinkable. This is one of those fine moments.

Email Bruce Sterling at bruces@well.com.

Monday, February 07, 2005

skins for robots

Korean Researchers Develop Skin-Like Tactile Sensor


A South Korean scientific research center said Sunday that it has developed a tactile sensor capable of functioning like human skin.


The left picture shows the letters of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) caught through a tactile sensor functioning like human skin and the right picture is its enlarged image. Scientists from KAIST developed the precision tactile sensor with 1-millimeter spatial resolution.
The tactile sensor is made of polydimethylsiloxane, a synthetic rubber, and has a 1-millimeter spatial resolution capability, the Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology (KAIST) said.

``Many tactile sensors have been developed so far, but ours has the highest spatial resolution capability, flexibility, softness and extensibility,’’ said Lee Hyung-kyu, who led the development project.

Late last year, the University of Tokyo unveiled a tactile sensor with a spatial resolution capability of 2 millimeters.

Lee said his team will announce the results of their research at an international conference on micro-electro-mechanical systems, to be held early next month in the U.S. city of Miami.

The new sensor is widely expected to lay the foundation for coating humanoids such as South Korea's HUBO or Japan's ASIMO with artificial skin.

HUBO is a humanoid robot recently developed by KAIST. It is capable of moving its fingers independently, dancing and shaking hands with people by using its 41 joints.

Japan's ASIMO, an acronym for Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility, was unveiled in 2000 as the world's most advanced bi-pedal robot.

Through several upgrades, it is now able to spin in the air, bend or twist its torso and maneuver around obstacles in its path.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Hans Moravec in SciAm

December 20, 2004

You, Robot

He says humans will download their minds into computers one day. With a new robotics firm, Hans Moravec begins the journey from warehouse drones to robo sapiens

By Chip Walter

When word got around that Hans Moravec had founded an honest-to-goodness robotics firm, more than a few eyebrows were raised. Wasn't this the same Carnegie Mellon University scientist who had predicted that we would someday routinely download our minds into robots? And that exponential advances in computing power would cause the human race to invent itself out of a job as robots supplanted us as the planet's most adept and adaptive species? Somehow, creating a company seemed ... uncharacteristically pragmatic.

But Moravec doesn't see it that way. He says he didn't start Seegrid Corporation because he was backing off his predictions. He founded the company because he was planning to help fulfill them. "It was time," he says, slowly rubbing his hand across his bristle-short hair. "The computing power is here."

The 56-year-old Moravec should know. Born in Kautzen, Austria, and raised in Montreal, he has been pushing the envelope on robotics theory and experimentation for the past 35 years, first as the graduate student at Stanford University who created the "Stanford Cart," the first mobile robot capable of seeing and autonomously navigating the world around it (albeit very slowly), and later as a central force in Car-negie Mellon's vaunted Robotics Institute. His iconoclastic theories and inventive work in machine vision have both shocked his colleagues and jump-started research; Seegrid is just the next logical step.

Moravec pulls an image up onto one of the two massive monitors that sit side by side on his desk, like great unblinking eyes. It's six o'clock in the evening, but an inveterate night owl, he's just starting his "day." "I have been drawing these graphs for years about what will be possible," he comments. His mouse roams along dots and images that plot and compare the processing power of old top-of-the-line computers with their biological equivalents. There is the ENIAC, for example, that in 1946 possessed the processing capacity of a bacterium and then a 1990 model IBM PS/2 90 that once harnessed the digital horsepower of a worm. Only recently have desktop computers arrived that can deliver the raw processing muscle of a spider or a guppy (about one billion instructions per second). "At guppy-level intelligence," he explains, "I thought we could manage 3-D mapping and create a robot that could get around pretty well without any special preparation of its environment."

But no one was creating that robot, so in the late 1990s Moravec says he began to grow "very antsy" about getting one built. In 1998 he wrote an ambitious grant proposal that outlined software for a robotic vision system. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency quickly funded the proposal, and three and a half years and $970,000 later, with PCs just reaching guppy smarts, a working demonstration was complete.

"It proved the principle," Moravec says. "We really could map with stereo vision, if we did things just right." But doing things just right required more than prototype software. Robotic evolution, he adds, "has to be driven forward by a lot of trial and error, and the only way to get enough is if you have an industry where one company is trying to outdo another." To help things along, he and Pittsburgh physician and entrepreneur Scott Friedman founded Seegrid in 2003. Their focus: the unglamorous but potentially huge "product handling" market.

Industrial robots already flourish in tightly constrained environments such as assembly lines. Where they fail is in locations loaded with unpredictability. So Seegrid concentrated on creating vision systems that enable simple machines to move supplies around warehouses without any human direction.

Not exactly the stuff of science fiction, Moravec agrees, and a long way from superintelligent robots, but he says you have to start somewhere. Nearly everything sold has to be warehoused at some point, and at some point it also has to be rerouted and shipped. Right now human workers move millions of tons of supplies and products using dollies, pallet jacks and forklifts. Seegrid's first prototype devices automate that work, turning wheeled carts into seeing-eye machines that can be loaded and then walked through various routes to teach them how to navigate on their own. The technology is built on Moravec's bedrock belief that if robots are going to succeed, the world cannot be adapted to them; they have to adapt to the world, just like the rest of us.

Other approaches can guide robots, but they typically rely on costly, precision hardware such as laser range finders or on extravagant arrangements that prewire and preprogram the machines to move through controlled spaces. Seegrid's system uses off-the-shelf CCD cameras and simple sonar and infrared sensors. Although these components gather imprecise information, the software compensates. It statistically compares the gathered data to develop a clean, accurate 3-D map. "If the same information keeps coming up, then the program decides that it's probably really there," Moravec explains. The robot then knows to stop or roll around it. This approach is how you might make your way through a dark room with a flashlight, in which you slowly build up a mental picture of what is around.

Creating warehouse drones as a first step toward the startling robotic world Moravec foresees might seem an unlikely concession to reality. But those who know Moravec say it is no surprise: he is an unusual mix of whimsy, wild vision and rigorous pragmatism. He has been known to be so lost in thought during his daily walks to his office that he bumps into mailboxes, yet none of that eccentricity has tarnished his reputation as a first-rate engineer and programmer.

"Some of Hans's ideas are pretty outrageous," admits Raj Reddy, who as director of the Robotics Institute brought Moravec to Carnegie Mellon in 1980, "but his work has always been very practical." Seegrid co-founder Friedman says it is exactly Moravec's vision and dogged persistence that separates him from the pack: "He's a genius, and he works hard."

The same themes run through his view of the future of robotics. Evolution moves in tiny steps, Moravec notes, but accomplishes amazing things. Machine evolution will do the same as it incrementally nudges robots from their clumsy beginnings to the heights of human-level intelligence and mobility. "We don't need a lot of Einsteins to do this; we need a lot of engineers working diligently to make little improvements and then test them out in the marketplace," Moravec insists. And that, he says, will ultimately lead to robots becoming vastly more intelligent and adaptable than we are.

That seems to leave us only one destination: the endangered species list. "Something like 99 percent of all species go extinct," Moravec observes. Why, he asks, should we be any different? Not that he sees us being destroyed by what he calls our "mind children" exactly. "It's not going to be like Terminator," he reassures. But children do often exceed the accomplishments of their parents. And in our evolutionary dotage, he is sure they will take good care of us, as parents' children often do. "They will create the perfect welfare state," he says.

At least, we hope so.

Toyota and robots

Toyota Uses Robots to Solve Labor Shortage ProblemsPosted on Friday, January 07 @ 00:38:13 CST Robotics

Toyota Motor will introduce robots which can work as well or better than humans at all 12 of its factories in Japan to cut costs and deal with a looming labour shortage as the country ages, a report said on Thursday.

The robots would be able to carry out multiple tasks simultaneously with their two arms, achieving efficiency unseen in human workers and matching the cheap wages of Chinese labourers, the Nihon Keizai Shimbun said.

Japan's top automaker currently uses 3 000 to 4 000 less advanced robots at its domestic factories but their use has been confined mostly to welding, painting and other potentially hazardous tasks, the economic daily said.

The new robots would also be used in finishing work, such as installation of seats and car interior fixtures, that have been too complex for conventional robots up to now, the daily said.

Toyota plans to become the first in the automobile industry to use the advanced robots in all production processes in the future, it said without giving the timeframe.

"We aim to reduce production costs to the levels in China," the daily quoted an unnamed company official as saying.

Toyota also took into account the looming labour shortage in Japan due to a declining birthrate, the report said.

Japan's population is forecast to peak by 2006 with the average number of children a woman has during her lifetime standing at a post-World War II low of 1.29, according to the latest government data.

Japan has so far rejected calls to open up to large numbers of unskilled immigrants, fearing the effects on the country's social framework.

Toyota has been increasingly turning to robot development and plans to welcome visitors to its pavillion at the World Expo in Japan in March with humanoid robots jamming in a brass ensemble and performing hip-hop.