Presentations at ASU-hosted Southwest Robotics Symposium explore the ways AI and control systems will make our lives better
Pope Francis, Elon Musk and Hollywood science fiction writers regularly envision smart robots taking over jobs and invading our privacy. Presentations at a symposium at Arizona State University this week, however, established that the next generation of robots will be assisting humanity rather than contributing to its doom.
“We are not all going to die because of robots,” said Aaron D. Ames, from the California Institute of Technology and plenary speaker at the Southwest Robotics Symposium. “Let’s keep these comments in context. They need to learn more about AI and robotics.”
According to Ames, the humanoid robots we see going viral in social media, like Google-owned Boston Dynamics’ Atlas walking through snow and doing backflips, are all control driven. “There’s zero AI on those robots,” Ames said.
“But, there’s tremendous potential to bring AI and control together on robotic systems in ways that will make our lives better, such as improve mobility for the impaired, aid in disaster response and enable space exploration,” he said.
The symposium, in addition to serving as a platform for researchers to learn about developing technologies and establish collaborative relationships, is also providing a framework to present robotics in terms that aren’t threatening.
“We are developing ways to talk about our research in the context of helping humans,” said Panagiotis Artemiadis, symposium committee chair and an associate professor in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. “The majority of the work we do is about enriching lives.”
Video by Ken Fagan/ASU Now
Bio-inspired robotics takes concepts in nature and applies them to engineering design. Examples at ASU include studying basilisks and octopuses to develop robots that can work in complex terrains for purposes like search and rescue, execute tasks on asteroids or other planets, and employ suction technologies for gripping and climbing.
“A collaborative team at ASU also is creating bio-inspired systems, using ferrofluids, or magnetic fluids, that can subdivide and regenerate,” said Hamid Marvi, an assistant professor in the ASU’s School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy. “These bio-inspired breakthroughs will be valuable in a wide range of medical applications, such as targeted drug delivery, microsurgery and tissue biopsy.”
Video by Ken Fagan/ASU Now
According to Thomas Sugar, an engineering professor at ASU’s Polytechnic School, assistive devices are moving into the mainstream.
“Sitting is the new smoking,” he said. “It increases the chances of heart disease, which is now killing more people than communicable diseases.”
In answer, assistive devices offer a boost to humans: Wearable exoskeletons support hips and knees to enable standing at a workstation, and locomotion systems are designed to assist warehouse workers to travel from one end of the facility to another.
Mechatronic technologies are being combined with soft robotics to create delicate, user-friendly devices for people with muscle-impairment diseases like muscular dystrophy, giving them the ability to grip and move items they otherwise could not manipulate.
Also in the assistive-device category is an anklebot (a robotic device that provides stability for patients whose gait has been impaired by stroke or diseases like Parkinson’s), rehabilitation treadmills that use a functioning limb to mirror muscle control in the impaired limb to restore normal mobility, and a variety of sensor-monitoring technologies that use treadmills or other therapeutic devices.