The future of robotics may not include printed circuit boards, metal frames and microchips, but instead, the term “robot” may need to be adapted to include semi-living biological creations which are not manufactured on a production line, but instead grown and evolved in labs and incubators. Are humans ready to accept a future where the artificially created life form is biological rather than electromechanical in nature? The question of whether or not an advanced “robot” has rights may relate more to the question of the rights of invertebrates like octopus and jellyfish than to the rights of a toaster or microwave. Can such a “being” be owned, sold, created or destroyed at will?
Rather than trying to recreate the computational power of a human brain from metals, composites and silicon, would it not be easier to engineer organic cells for this specific purpose? Where will its intelligence come from? So how is robotics technology evolving? The current state of the art technology is not yet at the stage where an entire robot can be grown, but rather the parts which make up a robot, and how they are fabricated is changing. Below you'll find a selectino of links to the most cutting edge robotics technology and research.
Currently, materials used to create the structural elements in common robots include metals, plastics and composites. Metals commonly used in robotics include aluminum, steel and titanium and parts are created using milling machines, lathes, lasers, waterjet, casting etc. Plastics of which common examples include ABS, polycarbonate. PET, PVC, PP and others.
Plastics get their shape using molding, laser cutting, vacuum forming, 3D printing etc. though many plastics are still not recyclable. Composites, which are most often carbon fiber or fiberglass where parts are created using molds, cut from sheets etc. Unfortunately composites are not recyclable
So what might the future look like when it comes to the structure of a robot? Humans have already started growing parts in and on animals (pigs, rats), so is this the future for robotics too? A current trend is to try to create the mechanics, electronics and actuators all at the same time. Manufacturing “all in one” robots where the electronics and mechanics are created together has only recently been possible with advancements in 3D printing, which allow complex shapes and the use of different materials.
Integrating electronics with mechanics:
Some other technology to watch out for:
- Advanced polymers and organic molecules; Examples might include electroactive, light sensitive and “smart”
- Artificial cells
- Soft robots, Bio hybrid robots
- Programmable matter; Examples include metamaterials, synthetic biology
Will robotic brains always be made using microprocessors made out of metals running computer code, or could they be made of cells or something else? Current research into Synthetic Neural Networks, computational metamaterials, neuromorphic engineering and organic electronics (like Organic Field Effect Transistors (OFETs) and Organic Memrisitive Devices such as Read Only Memories (OM-ROMs)) provide a glimpse into what might be coming.
- Artificial nervous system - Artificial Nervous Systems Brings Real-Life Touch to Robots (Machine Design)
- Ebrains - A robot on EBRAINS has learned to combine vision and touch (Newswires)
- Bio hybrid robots - Army is working on Frankenbots with living tissue to better robot capabilities (Federal News Network)
- Bio hybrid microbots - Scientists combine robotics with biology to construct biohybrid microrobots (News Medical)
- Robotic fabric - Researchers develop versatile robotic fabric (TechXplore)
- Artificial organic neuron - See A Venus Flytrap Controlled By A Computer Brain Chip (Giant Freakin Robot)
- Neuromorphic computing - Synaptic Transmission in a Simple Reflex Circuit (Neuroscience)
- Fireflies as inspiration - Researchers hope fireflies will aid robot communication (News Channel 5 Nashville)
- RC muscle-driven robots - Microelectronics give researchers a remote control for biological robots
- Soft robotics control - A Biology-Inspired Model Opens the Door to Soft Robot Control (Lab Manager)
When asked about what senses humans have, most are able to reply with the five basic being sight, smell, taste, hearing, feeling. However, we have many more than just these, including the sense of gravity, balance, motion, thirst or hunger and many others. If it cannot be sensed, how do you know it exists?
As of 2022, sensors used in robots are often designed as stand-alone products which can be soldered onto PCBs or connected via wires. They often have one function and sensors these days include:
- Biosensors that breathe - Porous silicone paves the way for wearable biosensors that breathe (New Atlas)
- Soft gripper - How pole beans inspired this soft robotic gripper (The Robot Report)
- Soft gripper - Tiny hand-shaped gripper can grasp and hold a snail's egg (TechXplore)
- Locust ear - Biohybrid robot wired to “hear” using locust’s ear (New Atlas)
- Soft robots - Playing Mario w/ a 3D Printed Soft Robotic Hand w/ “Integrated Fluidic Circuitry” | Science Advances (YouTube)
- AI foam (touch) - NUS researchers create AiFoam for robots to interact intelligently with their surroundings (YouTube)
- Soft temperature sensor - Self-powered stretchable thermometer can be integrated into soft robots, smart clothing (TechXplore)
- Vision-based haptic sensor - Sensitive robot ‘thumb’ uses computer vision to ‘feel’ touch (TRT World)
- Retina-inspired sensors - Retina-inspired sensors for more adaptive visual perception (TechXplore)
- Biological sensor - Israeli scientists create robot that ‘smells’ using biological sensor (i24 News)
- e-skin - New e-skin could allow robots to sense touch and their surroundings (Interesting Engineering)
Sensor technology has been evolving rapidly within the last 70 years, creating methods of sensing which could not even be imagined before. So how could sensor technology as a whole change and evolve?
- Frog cells - Tiny "Living" Robots Made from Frog Cells Could Be Swimming Inside You Soon (Interesting Engineering)
- Engineered tissue - Tissue engineering using mechanobiology and robotic micromanipulation (Medical Xpress)
- 3D print cells - Novel robotic system can 3D print cells onto organs inside the body (New Atlas)
- Synthetic Cells - Scientists Create Simple Synthetic Cells That Grows and Divides Normally (NIST)
Some other evolving sensor technology to watch out for:
These artificial creations are more “grown” than “manufactured” and may become the next stage in creating artificial life:
What are your thoughts on the future of robotics? Have a link you'd like to see added? Comment below. Is a link no longer working? Tell us and we'll update or remove it.
Picture Credit: Image by kjpargeter
- Distance; Examples: Infrared, ultrasonic, laser
- Orientation & Acceleration; Examples: Accelerometer, gyroscope, IMU, tilt, compass etc.
- Environmental; Examples: Gas, light, temperature, sound etc.
- Contact & Proximity; Examples: Buttons, switches, knobs, force
- Localization; Examples: SLAM, GPS etc.
- Metamaterials & Artificial skin
- Synthetic biology
- Smart materials (Liquid robots)
- Bioengineering, cellular engineering, mechanobiology
- Xenobots - Xenobot (Wikipedia)
- Gelatin as structural elements - We can make robots from gelatine and other edible ingredients (NewScientist)
- Hydrogel-based smart transformers - Magnetically controlled, hydrogel-based smart transformers (Phys Org)
- Robotic chemist & primordial soup - Robotic chemist may be able to recreate Earth’s primordial soup (NewScientist)
- Robot reproduction - Robots may soon be able to reproduce - will this change how we think about evolution? (The Guardian)
- Pregnant robots - Will A Robot be Able to Give Birth to A Child Robot of Her Own? (Analytics Insight)
- Plant roots inspired power - Water-absorbing material inspired by plant roots could power robots (NewScientist)
- Robotic Materials: From smart polymers to computational metamaterials
- Wikipedia - Organic electronics
- Wikipedia - Neuromorphic engineering
- Wikipedia - Programmable matter
- Wikipedia - Artificial cell
- Nader Engheta - Computational metamaterials