As a researcher in robotics, I tend to cringe whenever someone asks how long it will take until people start to see terminator-like robots on the streets. It’s a fun question to think about, but it is often asked with all too much seriousness, as though the world with terminators is the inevitable future that lies ahead of us.
But when I was asked this month’s Robotics by Invitation question, I gladly put on my imagination hat without much hesitation or cringing. Part of it might have something to do with the fact that no one will come after me and ask “so, when do you think that kind of technology will be available in the future?” So I felt very much free to let my imagination do what it does best.
The first thing that crossed my mind was a vision or an idea Mr. John S. Canning of the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division had discussed many years ago (in 2009 I believe) at a talk he titled “A Concept of Operations for Armed Autonomous Systems”. After thirty-something powerpoint slides, he summarized the talk with “Let the machines target machines – not people”. I think it’s a cool notion to think about building robots that are not built as ultimate killing machines, but built as the ultimate weapon-neutralizing machines. Imagine that, instead of targeted killing of humans, you send robots for targeted neutralization of weapons?
After coming across that summary, I remember thinking how useful it would be if I had an expandable, hidden robotic device implanted on my forearm, such that when I (if ever) need to go neutralize someone’s weapon, or protect myself from someone attacking me (for whatever reason), the device will automatically activate, expand into a bullet-proof shield, and help me detect dangerous weapons in the area to neutralize. If it comes with a mini jet-pack that allows me to fly, that’s even better. I’d be the ultimate superwoman whose day-job is to do research in robotics, but with a side job to fly to random places and help out with conflict situations. Ok, that sounds like a plot from a comic book.
Some of you might think I sound like I’m dreaming to be a female version of Iron Man. But I am thinking of something more subtle (at least while the device isn’t activated), like the Inspector Gadget (for those of you who don’t know him, Inspector Gadget was a cartoon character that could hide all of his cyborg gadgetry inside his trench coat). I would look just like a normal person, except that, when necessary, my ‘implanted devices’ would activate to serve whatever various purposes I need.
That’s only if you are asking me about implants. But if you are asking me about robotic accessories, then that’s a whole different story. Wouldn’t it be amazing if there was a foldable and light pocket-sized device that you could carry with you while travelling (or grocery shopping), so that when you don’t want to carry heavy things, you could just activate it, and it would become a full sized stair-climber and a follow-bot? It would have come in very handy if I had such a device during my trip to Europe, hopping between trains and planes with my luggage. I don’t think I’d use anything bigger or heavier than my purse for this purpose, because that defeats the purpose.
Anyone have one of these available for testing yet?