What Can Stupid Old Robots Do, Anyway?

I heard a story about some new robotic technology last week and was wowed. That other group I write for – middle grade boys – might be interested to hear all about it, as well. I hope you do, too, because this week’s blog post is all about some of the developments in robot technology.

terminators from The Terminator movie

When I think about robots, the first thing that pops into my head is Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Terminator movies. I also saw a 60 Minutes episode showing several amazing warehouse robots working their way into modern factories. It made me think of Roomba, the vacuuming robot. Now that’s one robot I wish I had working for me!

iRobot Roomba vacuum

But what else can robots do? What sorts of functions and features will tomorrow’s robots have?

I was amazed to discover that right now robots are learning to speak our language. Soon we may be able to have conversations with them. And it only gets more Terminator-like from there. Scientists at MIT and the University of Pennsylvania have discovered how to get genetically altered muscle cells to respond to light. Sure, these muscle cells are bioengineered and more organic than machine, but attach these muscle cells to a hard metal robot skeletal frame, write a program telling a microchip in your new robot how to activate with light rays those bioengineered muscle cells in various ways, move your robot frame around just how you want it to, and voila! Just add some bioengineered skin to cover it all up and you have . . . Terminator 2014!

droplets

But wait! What about the liquid steel Terminator T-1,000 robot? Don’t worry, he’s not really that far behind our Terminator 2014 fantasy robot. Other scientists at the University of Colorado have developed Ping-Pong ball sized robots they call droplets, which can swarm together to form “a liquid that thinks”. The goal is that once the droplets decide how to solve whatever problem they’re working on, they will self-assemble, adapting to whatever form is needed. Combine that with the indestructible inchworm robot that MIT and Harvard are working on. Meshbot can survive being thrown, beaten, and stepped on, as well as squeeze into tight spaces. Meshbot is soft and flexible and squishy, you see. Perhaps this combination of droplets and meshbot will form our Terminator 2016 model?

chameleon robot

We’re still not done. Finally, the last of my futuristic robots will have technology currently being worked on by the folks at Harvard. This one, a robot that can both change forms AND change color. That’s right – this robot is capable of camouflage! I think it should be dubbed the Chameleon 2018.

Wow! Robots have come a long way. Yeah, I know, they still have a ways to go before they get to Terminator levels, but robots are currently capable of far more than I realized before looking this stuff up. How about you? Have you heard of other things robots can do? What would your fantasy robot look like and what would it do? Feel free to tell me by clicking the comment cloud at the top of this post.

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