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.
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.
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:
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?
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