History of Robots, Cyborgs, and Androids Part 4

About the history and development of robots, cyborgs, and androids from ancient history to modern times.


SAIL (Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory) has recently developed a robot with the capacity to perceive in three dimensions, making it capable of performing such complex tasks as assembling automobile water pumps.

Other robots serving humans at present are: a robot fireman, 6 ft. tall, 1,300 lb., with a nozzle in its chest and two lights for ears, that has wheels and can climb stairs; a robot rat able to explore a maze and learn from its mistakes; a robot chess player, which also can learn from its mistakes; Mowbot, which can, untended, mow a lawn, avoiding trees and flower beds. M. W. Thring, the British father of robotics, who began designing them when he was only 10, has created a robot he jocularly calls Char, which can clear a table.

In the android category are human simulators like Sophisticated Sam, a robot that not only looks like a person but also bleeds, bruises, and breaks its bones like one. It is being used by General Motors to study auto safety. Another human simulator, called Sim, responds as a human patient would--jerking its arm with pain or, if need be, dying--to teach medical students how to cope with real emergencies and to give them practice in using techniques without jeopardizing a human.

Machine-human combinations, presently used in industry and medicine, employ force feedback, through which the human operator, attached to the machine, feels what the machine "feels." For example, mechanical hands, utilizing the operator's kinesthetic sense, can work in environments dangerous to humans, as a kind of extension of the human body. Handyman, which during one of its tests twirled a hula hoop to show its complexity, is such a human amplifier. Hardiman, an outer robot skeleton for a man inside it, is a walking truck, with legs and feet instead of wheels, which can feel and adjust to bumps and handle up to 1,500 lb., while the operator "feels" only 60 lb. The walking truck can be used as a prosthesis for multiple amputees or to explore inhospitable environments.

Sometimes a radio link between human and machine enables the operator to wear the master skeleton in the control center while the robot works someplace else. Under the sea, such robots have gone to depths of 1,000 ft.

These devices used in medicine make the Bionic Man and Bionic Woman seem plausible. Artificial limbs employ signals from the nerves to the muscles so that people wearing them can use them as if they were really their own. Some devices, called cyborgs, go inside the body; e.g., the pacemaker, which regulates heartbeats.

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