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I Robot is the New Reality

I Robot is the New Reality

Mar 6, 2006
Mary Hobson
Technology Schools Columnist


We don't have to wait to catch up with Isaac Asimov's predictions of robotics in his book (and the film) I Robot to meet robots in everyday life. Robotics has been part of our industrial automation program for many years.

Booming Robotics Use

Up until the late 1990s, around 90% of industrial robots were found in the car industry, but today the figure is closer to 50%. There are more than 1 million robots in everyday use, according to Jim Pinto, an industrial analyst and commentator. The Japanese market alone will be worth $27 billion by 2010 and $72 billion by 2025.

Industrial Robots

Industrial automation is a reality for both large and small scale manufacturing. Indeed, smaller companies are taking advantage of the reduction in cost of linking large scale computing power to industrial robots. Using industrial automation has also become an alternative to outsourcing production to cheaper locations - usually in other countries. Industrial robots give them reliable, cost effective production that is less prone to interruption and that is expandable at little extra unit cost. Compared with the problems of managing outsourcing, industrial automation looks like a good bet.

Low Cost, Effective Robots

However, it's not just industrial static robots that are affecting our everyday lives. Evolution Robotics in Pasadena, California, has developed a small, disc shaped vacuum cleaner that works by itself. It finds it's way around the home or office and removes dirt as its sensors detect it. It's called Roomba, and with a price tag of $199, it's affordable technology. Of course, it wasn't the first robotic vacuum cleaner; Electrolux of Sweden has one on the market, but it costs $1,500.

Removing Barriers to Entry

So why are we seeing this kind of cheap robot coming into the market now? Well, it's a case of a number of technologies maturing so that they are cheap and readily available. For instance, a robot vacuum cleaner needs several sensors, including a camera. These have been developed using CMOS microchips and can be produced very cheaply, making it possible to build robots by assembling them from these cheap and readily available parts. And the more that technology matures, the more applications that can be build into robots.

Robotics Schools Offer Courses and Research Opportunities

So how do you get onto the robotics bandwagon? There are a number of robotics schools offering relevant robotics courses. Many of these require a degree in a relevant subject, like electronics or computer science, and then offer courses at graduate level. You can specialize in an area of robotics such as construction, sensor input, and artificial intelligence. You can take part in the research that is happening both in robotics schools and in the companies that work closely with academia.

However you plan your career in robotics, you can be sure that this is an area of technology that has a really great future. We have dreamed of robotics ever since the 1930s when the word first came into play through science fiction. But today, you don't need to rent the I Robot DVD to be a part of this new reality.

Sources
ROBOTICS: Looming Ever Larger in Smaller Businesses
Service Robots: No More Waiting, They're Here Today, Robotics Online

About the Author

Mary Hobson is a freelance writer and the head of an IT program at a polytechnic school in New Zealand.