The latest technology in the world of robotics was recently unveiled in Japan and the result is humanoid robots that can play sports, have a skeleton exactly like hours and sensory nervous system. 2018 hopefully won’t be the year of the human vs robots World War III, but the robots created by a team of scientists at the University of Tokyo mark a giant leap forward in robotics.
Until now, humanoid robots have been built on simpler engineering that resulted in clumsy movements and inflexible, bulky bodies. However, this new generation have a skeletal and joint structure, as well as sensory nervous system controlling their balance, stability and coordination. The entire human musculoskeletal system, tendons and joints have been built from aluminium, steel and plastic. The result is humanoid robots that can move with extremely realistic motion, almost identical to that of the actual biological humans they are modelled on.
And it’s not only the robots’ physical structure that is getting closer to our own. The two robots created by the team, named Kengoro and Kenshire, also have robotic ‘brains’. Their computers employ the latest in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning technology. This means they can perform different actions and tasks without being specifically told what to do. They are able to interpret a situation and adapt to it based on problem solving and prior experience, much like we do as humans.
The good news is that these robots are being designed to aid humanity and not replace it! The robots will help scientists better understand how humans move during sports, help the development of the next generation of artificial limbs and be used as a realistic ‘frame’ for the growth of human tissue to be used in grafts.
Our bodies are such hugely complex creations and the finer details of how our systems and mechanisms work has been a challenge to medicine throughout human history. While we are still not 100% close to a full understanding how all of our organs work, particularly the spectacularly intricate make-up of our brains, we are getting there.
As well as skeletal structure that exactly match those of humans, the robots have artificial muscles created from electrical motors, wires and sensors. Ball and socket joints also help facilitate a range and precision in movements far beyond what had previously been achieved in robotics. A spine made from individual vertebrae that allow for a natural curvature mean Kengero and Kenshire can even do sit-ups!
Another team of scientists in Italy have also recently produced the first humanoid robot with an electronic skin system providing a sense of ‘touch’. It’s been built over a child humanoid call iCub, which is able to crawl, sit, toddle, interact with its environment and recognise objects.
We are still very much at the beginning of the journey that could eventually lead us to robots that can move, act, reason and interact with the world like in the popular TV show Westworld. However, the pace of development in robotics and artificial intelligence over the past couple of years show that we not be as far off that day as many may think. The latest technology in the world is moving at a frightening pace!