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Mark Tilden on “What is the single biggest obstacle preventing robotics from going mainstream?”

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15 May 2013



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From experience, the single biggest obstacle to personal robotic markets is cost, both in money and time. Robots have the disadvantage of being over-promoted in fictional media while over-priced on the shelves. Sci-fi is fine to inspire if builders feel the money-time is justified, but the number of half-finished robots internationally greatly outnumber those completed, more’s the pity.

Frustration is compounded when the budding obsessive-compulsive hits what I call the ‘complexity barrier’, where for a linear increase in device competence, an exponential increase in money-time is required.  This often leads to a condition I call FIBA (for “F&@k It, Build Another”) where enthusiasm fades as prototypes fall further into dusty closets.

The problem with FIBA is that the evolutionary discoveries and skills from completing the mechanoid never resolve.  Also, unlike failed code, film, books, or other virtual projects, the half-finished device will be too expensive to throw away and will likely to haunt the builders ambitions for years (dammit!).

It doesn’t inspire, especially when Hollywood (and nature) makes it seem so easy.  There has to be a way to reduce all the factors so that robots can be put together at a price appropriate not just to encourage robo-evolution, but also allow users to put them at risk.  Right now conventional personal robots are precious things subject to de-acceleration trauma, but the best discoveries I’ve had have not been from artificial life, but artificial danger.  We can simulate a robot, but not the real-world it lives in, and how it deals with those problems provide vital clues for subsequent generations (robots and builders alike).  We have to get them cheap enough so they can make mistakes, or they/we will never learn … the vital step to proctoring these creatures into reality.

It’s a forced evolution, and sometimes painful/funny to watch, but if you’ve got a dozen of these dumbos in the lab, let’s see what the dog thinks of one.

Speaking of, anyone know how to get fang marks out of aluminum?

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Mark Tilden is a panel member for Robohub's Robotics by Invitation series.





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