Data storage capacity and the development of greater autonomy will be key to the increasing use of robots in businesses and homes, an expert from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology told the audience at this year's BCS/Royal Signals Institution Lecture.
There are 2.5 million robots being used in homes in the US, whereas in 2002 there were no ground robots in the US military or in US homes, said Rodney Brooks, director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT. He said demand for household robots was being driven, for the most part, by ageing populations in technologically advanced countries.
Brooks said robots were not yet completely autonomous, relying on supervision via teleoperation or direct human intervention. To get robots into more homes he said the machines must move closer to autonomy.
In the military, Brooks said robots had been deployed successfully in places too dangerous for people. In war zones, they are sent ahead of troops to locate hostile forces and to detect and disable explosives. In industry, they are increasingly used to replace manual labourers in farms and factories.
He said that the main obstacle to developing more accomplished, autonomous, robots was the storage capacity for data and information. For robots to accomplish more tasks, he said they would need the ability to assimilate greater amounts of stored information more quickly.
Brooks said that present storage capacity growth trends indicated that storage capacity would not be a problem in the future. Taking the iPod as a storage marker, and our knowledge of storage growth within that platform, Brooks said that educated estimations of the future could be made.
If 10Gbytes of memory was available in 2003, 40,000Gbytes would be available in 2015, which meant that by 2009 a person would be able to store a million books on their iPod. Putting this into context, Brooks said this would mean that every robot would be able to store a highly detailed map of the Earth on a solid state disc.
Pre-empting the question he is asked most, Brooks concluded by saying that he did not think robots would ever take over from humans. He said it was more likely that as robots become more similar to humans, we will become more robotic through medical developments, such as artificial tissue.
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This was first published in June 2007