Robots are Everywhere -
Robots are used everywhere. Sales of industrial robots have risen to record levels and they have huge, untapped potential for domestic chores like mowing the lawn and vacuuming the carpet. Last year 3,000 underwater robots, 2,300 demolition robots and 1,600 surgical robots were in operation. A big increase is predicted for domestic robots for vacuum cleaning and lawn mowing, increasing from 12,500 in 2000 to almost 500,000 by the end of 2004. IBot’s Roomba floor cleaning robot is now available at under $200.00. In the wake of recent anthrax scares, robots are increasingly used in postal sorting applications. Indeed, there is huge potential to mechanize the US postal service. Some 1,000 robots were installed last year to sort parcels and the US postal service has estimated that it has the potential to use up to 80,000 robots for sorting.
Look around at the “robots” around us today: automated gas pumps, bank ATMs, self-service checkout lanes – machines that are already replacing many service jobs. Fast-forward another few decades. It doesn’t require a great leap of faith to envision how advances in image processing, microprocessor speed and human-simulation could lead to the automation of most boring, low-intelligence, low-paying jobs. Despite the wishes of robot researchers to emulate human appearance and intelligence, that simply hasn’t happened. Most robots still can’t see – versatile and rapid object recognition is still not quite attainable. And there are very few examples of bipedal, upright walking robots such as Honda’s P3, mostly used for research or sample demonstrations. The number of robots in the world today is approaching 1,000,000, with almost half that number in Japan and just 15% in the US. A couple of decades ago, 90% of robots were used in car manufacturing, typically on assembly lines doing a variety of repetitive tasks. Today only 50% are in automobile plants, with the other half spread out among other factories, laboratories, warehouses, energy plants, hospitals, and many other industries. Robots are used for assembling products, handling dangerous materials, spray-painting, cutting and polishing, inspection of products. The number of robots used in tasks as diverse as cleaning sewers, detecting bombs and performing intricate surgery is increasing steadily, and will continue to grow in coming years.