Robots becoming part of everyday life used to conjure an image of Rosie, the Jetson’s maid that played a central role in the futuristic family’s life. In modern day, however, we’re more likely to think of Roombas in our homes, or robotic surgery in hospitals. Advances are taking place that are bringing robots more and more into our daily lives. Drone flight ranges are increasing, as are the loads they carry, land robots are able to move faster, and artificial prosthetics can mimic body movements unlike ever before. Even with all this progress, the robotics industry faces some major challenges.
Artificial intelligence is being developed for many different types of robotics, at the same time, the specialization of these robots is also developed. One robot is programmed to detect cancer cells from a series of images taken by a doctor, another is made to translate language from English to Spanish. Both are unable to operate outside of those limitations with any generalized intelligence. The need for a higher level of AI from specialized to generalized intelligence is emerging, in order to support multiple robots and their systems communicating and working together to accomplish a common goal. Multiple robots or systems working together will increase the overall complexity of development, but also yield greater potential value for those that successfully develop them.
After autopilot functions were installed in Tesla Model S vehicles, the crash rate was reduced by 40%. While the study shows that it is safer to let the vehicle function autonomously, many are still reluctant to give up personal control to a machine. Thinking about handing over control to a robot prompts the question: will a robot be able to make moral decisions? If the goal of the robot is to clean a table, but there is an expensive centerpiece in its way, would it reason that the centerpiece is more important? Likewise, if a car is driving and a child runs into the street (detected as an object), would it prioritize the safety of the child over the safety of the vehicle? Successful testing is already a critical part of the development of many products, but it takes on deeper significance when lives are at stake.
As robotics become intertwined in our daily lives, new laws and regulations will be needed to govern them. Already problems have arisen with personal drones, and lack of legislation is causing hiccups in the progress of autonomous vehicles hitting the market. European Parliament is working on draft legislation to encourage the establishment of EU-wide rules around intelligent robots and AI. Legislation will have implications not only for how we interact with robots, but also for the companies developing them.
For more on robotics as they relate to autonomous driving, read our conversation with John Blyler of PSU and Bill Chow of INCOSE and Mentor Graphics.