Sunday, December 21, 2003

Are We Losing the Robot Race?

Pik which, when launched in October 1957 by the Soviet Union, excited our nation to respond with a technology crash program of its own, we have no equivalent Space Race response to the frequent announcements from Japan of its growing prowess in robot manufacturing.

The latest news, that Sony has built a full-size humanoid jogging robot is just the latest in a series of firsts from Japanese mega-conglomerates. For some time now Honda's Asimo and Sony's Qrios have been entertaining conference attendees with dance routines.

Many have argued that humanoid shaped robots are not particularly useful by comparison to industrial robots where most US researchers have focused. Solving the complicated problems of making a machine move like a human being doesn't help with any of the heavy industrial problems for which most robots are utilized.

This narrow view of robots ignores the basic premise that Honda and Sony are successfully focused on -- that everything in our world is designed to accomodate a human frame and human hands. If robots are going to play a useful role in an everyday human world, they will have to move and look something like human beings.

Robot manufacturing will be one of the 21st centuries biggest industries. As the world's largest economy we ignore this market at our own peril.

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