Tuesday, September 7, 2010

"The Boss Is Robotic, and Rolling Up Behind You"

This article from the New York Times (September 4) is worth a look, if only for the graphic of 5 similar robots and a couple of useful videos of the robots in action. These robots are essentially video conferencing tools on wheels, remotely operated by one person (whose face typically appears on the robot's screen) from an ordinary desktop computer.

The appeal of this technology in certain settings is obvious: An entrepreneur with offices and staff in two or more cities can meet with his staff daily without having to travel; a physician can assist in a health clinic hundreds of miles away. I don't think these robots will become ubiquitous, though.

The terminology bothers me a bit, though. I wish that we had widely-used terminology that could distinguish between, for example, factory robots that are bolted in place and perform well-defined and highly patterned movements; mobile robots with some choice-making capacity but very few functions (the Roomba® is a good example); remote-controlled mobile devices like the ones described in this article; and fully mobile machines with good deal of choice-making capacity. There might be other categories of which I am unaware (or not bringing to mind just now. I also think it would be useful to distinguish between human-shaped (humanoid) robots, robots so human-like that they could be mistaken for a person (think C3PO vs Data), and non-humanoid robots (R2D2).

If you know of such terminology, please post a comment sharing it with me and the readers of this blog.

Ken Pimple, PAIT Project Director

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