Robots' biggest challenges for the future
According to a study presented by an international panel of experts and published in the journal Science Robotics, there are several challenges in the application of robotics in society.
Apart from all the areas of application of robotics, which are many, in research special emphasis is placed on social robotics and robotics associated with medicine as specific areas of development in order to highlight the substantial impacts on both health and society, which will help to overcome these great challenges.
Finally, one of the challenges relates to responsible innovation and how ethics and safety must be carefully considered as we develop the technology. The study picks up large unresolved obstacles in robotics. These award-winning challenges were collected during an open online survey and restricted by an expert panel led by Guang-Zhong Yang, director of the Hamlyn Centre for Robotic Surgery at Imperial College London (UK).
Four of the challenges are related to the development of technology that will reshape the future of robotics, going beyond gears and motors. These include creating new materials and manufacturing methods; using brain-computer interfaces to increase human capabilities; developing low-cost but long-lasting batteries and energy collection schemes; and using nature as inspiration, whether translating biological principles into engineering design or integrating living components into robotic structures. Let's look at all the challenges robots face.
Isaac Asimov stated in his science fiction novels half a century ago that: 'A robot will not harm a human being or, by inaction, allow a human being to be harmed. A robot must obey orders given by human beings, except if these orders conflict with the 1st Law.
The laws of robotics fall short of reality. Thus, if we manage to overcome these challenges in robotics that we will list now, it is bound to have an enormous scientific, political and socio-economic impact on our society in the next five or ten years.
The field of robotics is broad and covers many underlying and associated technological areas. Identifying these challenges was a difficult task, explain the authors of the study published in Science Robotics, and there are many unlisted sub-themes that are equally important for future development. The list we will review is not, therefore, exclusive or exhaustive, but they set the scene.
The first challenge for robotics is to come up with innovative materials and manufacturing schemes to create a new generation of multifunctional, energy-efficient robots that are compatible and as autonomous as biological organisms.
The second challenge is to overcome not only the manufacture of biohybrid and bioinspired robots, which we are already working on, but to make them work like natural systems; that means translating the fundamental principles of living beings into engineering design rules or to integrate living components into synthetic structures in order to create robots that work like natural systems.
It will be crucial to develop new energy sources and battery technologies to move these machines. Through new battery technologies and energy collection schemes, we will solve the problem of lasting operability for future mobile robots.
Robot swarms will allow the simplest and least expensive modular units to be reconfigured into one piece of equipment, depending on the task to be performed, while being as effective as a larger, task-specific monolithic robot.
Scientists specialising in robotics will also have to succeed in creating machines capable of navigating and exploring in barely known extreme environments, such as the deep sea. In these hostile environments it will be crucial that the robots have the ability to adapt and recover from failures.
Developing the ability to learn is one of the fundamental aspects of artificial intelligence applied to robotics, as well as advanced pattern recognition and model-based reasoning, in addition to trying to conceive intelligence with common sense.
In the field of biomedicine, progress in brain-computer interfaces (BCI) will be crucial, as neuroprostheses, functional electrical stimulation devices and exoskeletons will have to be controlled without problems.
Social interaction, including human social dynamics and moral norms, will be another major challenge that we will have to overcome. The fact that robots can truly integrate with our social life, showing empathy and natural social behaviours is one of the most incredible challenges expected by robotics enthusiasts
Medical robotics is another goal. With increasing levels of autonomy for machines, legal, ethical and technical challenges will also have to be considered, as well as the development of microrobotics that address the real demands in medicine. Always without forgetting ethics and legality.
Ethics and security for responsible innovation in robotics. We cannot disregard the fact that in all robotic innovation both premises must be present: ethics and safety. According to experts, they should be applied in social policies and standards as soon as possible, while technologies are still in the early stages.
It is precisely these researchers who recommend that we address these complex concerns from the outset, while the technology is still in development. It should also be kept in mind that we should be more concerned about human ignorance than artificial super intelligence: "Humans, not technology, are both a solution and will remain so for the foreseeable future," scientists say.
Addressing these great challenges also requires a major cultural change. For example, to meet the challenges of designing bioinspired and biohybrid robots, engineers, physicists, applied mathematicians and biologists must form mutually beneficial interdisciplinary collaborations. To extract principles, understand a biological design, and use biological material effectively, it is first necessary to understand that evolution is not engineering. Particularly important for robotics is the development of a synergy where biological principles inspire the design of novel robots or components, and these robots (or parts thereof) are used by biologists as physical models to better test the hypotheses of structure-function biological relationships.
According to Toby Walsh, professor of Artificial Intelligence at the University of New South Wales, a great challenge in the near future for robotics could be to build a robot to discover life on the moons of the solar system or "enter a teenager's room, pick up clothes from the floor, wash them, fold them and put them in the closet”.