When I was in Tokyo a couple years ago I got to see the Asimo first hand. While the machine is shorter than I expected, it does something that until it’s creation was practically impossible for robots: it walked on two legs like we do. Then of course it went on to play soccer, run up stairs, and do other amazing tasks. Needless to say, I was thoroughly impressed.
What Asimo and other robots like it are doing is opening up the field of assistive robotics to the world. You can see the beginnings of this with the iRobot Roomba. But the technologies are on the verge of breaking out. Not to long ago Stanford started making the forray into robots that grasp everyday objects. Now companies like Willow Garage are taking the next step and working on hardware and software that will eventually bring these advanced technologies to the home.
One of my particular interests is in robotic prostheses, like the one being developed by Dean Kamen appropriately named “Luke Arm”. This is a field that I think assistive robotics is opening up. I am fascinated by giving people the ability to manipulate objects and do to so with real motion, not simple grippers that are so common today. What really surprises me is that prostheses haven’t actually advanced much in the past couple decades considering that advancements in technology now make things like the Shadow Robot Hand possible.
I see advances like the Luke Arm, the BMI, and even the Shadow Robot Hand coming together in the near future to give disabled people real advantages in their environment. Soon these technologies will go even further, as demonstrated by athlete Aimee Mullins in her talk on TED, in giving disabled peoples a real advantage in the world over those people without disabilities. I think this is actually a promising development and one that minds like Juan Enriquez have shared with the world on TED.
In short, I think there’s a lot of promise to help people as we begin to leverage the field of robotics and apply it to the real world.