Forbes E-Gang Does Robots

Forbes is doing a full spread on (of course) the business of robotics today. The big players they cover include the HAL, iRobot, the Pleo, Da Vinci, Stanley, StickyBot, and MindStorms NXT.

Some interesting tidbits:
  • On the topic of the HAL suit by Cyberdyne, while yes the company and suit are meant to be named after the ominous fictional symbols of human subjugation, the creator refuses to build for the military.

    "But Sankai refuses to sell to a lucrative market: the military; he wants no army of superstrong soldiers in HAL suits. He says U.S. officials contacted him after the Sept. 11 attacks, but Sankai ended the conversation shortly thereafter. Scurrying over to a bookcase, Sankai comes back with Isaac Asimov's book I, Robot. "A robot must not injure human beings," he quotes, pointing to the first of Asimov's three laws of robotics."

  • Up next for iRobot, a Roomba lawnmower (YardBa?) Watch out for your toes, pets, and jugulars folks.

  • Expect numerous evil hacks and even viruses to be transmitted between Pleos
    "Owners will be able to download new behaviors from the Web or write their own code. Young Pleos might even pick up habits or catch a cold by hanging out with other Pleos, sharing data via infrared links."
  • Da Vinci may be man controlled now, but some of the instruments being created, when put in the inhuman grip of an autonomous surgical bot, will be litterally putting our hearts in the robot hands. One new instrument seeks to give us the deep throat:
    "In nascent development is a robotic arm that flexes like an elephant trunk to glide down the throat for scarless repairs of the the upper airways."
  • Sebastian Thrun likes to quote statistics.
    "Forty-two thousand people in the U.S. die in traffic accidents every year,"
    But when a pissed off sentience is infused with his vehicle, watch out:
    Thrun taught his bots to stop trusting all data equally and instead assign some probability to its utility and accuracy.
    "The robot has to figure out: Is this data a wall? Could it be a kid? Could it be a shadow or a trick?"
    So basically all the robot has to say is, "I thought that kid was a shadow or a trick!"

  • StickyBot will be maintaining our bridges. Mark Cutkosky of Stanford University says, "I just want robots that can look for cracks in the Bay Bridge." The bay bridge is too easy a target. I'll leave that one up to your imaginations.

  • Soren Lund of Mindstorms fame looks to the future and counts on the fan-builders of Mindstorms hacks, "I don't know what the third generation of Mindstorms will look like yet," he says, "but I wouldn't be surprised if it is developed by our audience."

    I, on the other hand, wouldn't be surprised if the fourth generation is developed by the machines themselves.

  • Honda on the other hand is working on so many things they may not notice when their mind-reading robots start sending comands back to the brain. (NOTE: Don't let Honda and Sony merge)

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