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Spotlight on robotics: Convergence is just around the corner

27 Oct 2015  | Michael Parks

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The romantic image of the lone cowboy herding his cattle could soon be replaced by robots roaming the range. Australian researchers are working on a robotic rover to assist in the herding duties thus allowing ranchers to focus on running other aspects of their operations. Out at sea, robots are increasingly being used to track algae blooms that threaten aquatic life, the spread of pollution in our oceans, and to monitor the impact that global warming is having on the shorelines of cities around the world. Robots will also be pivotal in environmental restoration after disasters such as cleaning up after oil spills.

Robots will no doubt play a much larger role in monitoring and caring for our planet. Robots can be produced in greater quantities and be deployed to more locations than we could ever hope to reach using humans alone. Advances in mesh networking, advanced sensor technologies and AI will allow robots to work smarter and make their own decisions on how to accomplish tasks. The knowledge gained by their work will allow us to make informed environmental policy and economic decisions to support our ever-burgeoning population.

Danger, Will Robinson, Danger! Robots in Emergency Response

An individual's life is not replaceable. Fortunately, robots are. The military applications of unmanned systems are widely discussed, but there are other dangerous situations such as fires, nuclear disasters, and earthquakes where sending in a robot will become the preferred alternative.

Robin Murphy, director of the Centre for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue at Texas A&M, was recently quoted regarding her excitement for the future of robots in disaster recovery. Specifically she highlighted research into burrowing robots as a major point of interest. Mimicking behaviours of certain burrowing animals allows these robots to reach people trapped in the voids of a collapsed building much more quickly than we can do today.

For those lost in the wilderness, rescue will come a lot sooner since robots are able to operate for longer periods of time and under more difficult environmental and terrain conditions than their human counterparts. Robots can also "see" better using special optics, such as infrared cameras, which will give them an advantage in finding people in remote locations even in poor weather conditions. Moving forward, as data fusion technologies mature and improved algorithms are developed, groups of search robots will be able to adapt search tracks on their own, resulting in a greater likelihood of success and in less time.

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