Robots and Systems
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BARG Newsletter #3/4 pages 3 - 10 -- ROBOTS FOR ALL? - David Buckley
ROBOTS FOR ALL? - David Buckley

Why do we need or want clever robots? What can they do for us that existing robots can't do.

It is known that the Roman Empire, and most empires before and since, was founded on slavery and consequently most Romans had quite an easy time of it. However, that doesn't help us because slavery is illegal. So what could help us? Suppose we had robots with enough Intelligence that we could leave them to do certain jobs on their own.

You might say, of course, that today's Industrial robots get on with the job on their own, which is all very true until something goes wrong, say maybe a work-piece breaks or a tool jams or the electricity goes off. What then? Everything must stop until a human can come and sort things out and restart the system. Where does that put humans, but as the servants or slaves of the machines! If today's robots had a little more Intelligence, and better sensors, then they could sense that something was not quite as it should be and take appropriate action to remedy the situation and then carry on.

The ideal servant or slave is smart enough to do the job but not smart enough to complain. Let us look at some applications for smart robots and improvements in technology necessary to make then possible.

Supposing we had clever robots, what could we do with them, what could we use . them for?

Trying to anticipate too far into the future is fraught with difficulty and we should at this stage restrict ourselves to realistic aims and omit any flights of fancy from science fiction. There are many tasks which are at present very dangerous for humans to do and others which are socially limiting because of the time at which they need to be carried out. There are even more tasks that are impossible for humans because of their size, that is, humans may not be able to fit into the space available or they may be too small or weak.

Let's look at a few such tasks and try to determine what features of hardware and software would be necessary to accomplish them.

Sewer Maintenance
Most people probably picture sewers as quite large, certainly large enough to walk down. However, this is not the case, most are small, and crawling down them would be very difficult. The sewers in nearly all towns and cities are now quite old and are beginning to need maintenance. Apart from the few where humans can carry out this maintenance work from the inside, (which can't be a pleasant job), it involves either digging them up and relaying or the use of specialised machinery for lining the insides, which is a slow process. How much better It would be if we could have robots to do this job. They could work on the inside of the sewer even while It was being used! What sort of robot would we need?

Robot miners have been a popular subject for a good number of years but the fully robot mine is still a very long way off. Robotic machines, overseen by humans, are a much nearer possibility and we can list some of their features. Security Patrols
Almost every shop, office block or warehouse of any size has a security patrol. Most of this work is done at night, which means that the guards have to sleep during the day. Not only is this unnatural, but it also restricts their social activities in that most entertainments are geared to a population that works during the day, relaxes in the evening and sleeps at night.

As a result of this, security robots are already being made. What facilities must they have?

Other Applications
There are many other applications we could consider and the following are just some of these.
However, you must have noticed that the lists for the various appications are very much alike. We should not expect the lists of qualities desirable to be very much different. However, writing such lists is very instructive and you should try to write some lists yourself. Just to see how difficult it will be to build a robot to do everyday tasks. Try to write a list for a robot that could do housework; wash up, do the dusting, vacuum the carpets, tidy up, etc.

Requirements of Advanced Robots
What are the requirements of advanced robots? The above only gives us an idea for specific cases but it is possible to define broadly various features which, will be necessary.