I was six when I saw Star Wars for the first time. After standing in line with my mother outside of Mann’s Chinese Theater (for what seemed like an eternity to an impatient child), we took our seats and experienced an epic sci-fi fantasy like no one had seen before. I had no idea then that one day, I would work for the very same company that created the groundbreaking special effects for the movie. All I knew is that I wanted robotic companions just like Threepio and Artoo.
Robots are nothing new to the sci-fi genre. From servants like Robby the Robot in Forbidden Planet and The Jetson’s sassy maid Rosie, to noble, innocent machines like Johnny 5 and Data, robots seem to be everywhere in entertainment. But back in the day, actually interacting with one of these creations in real life seemed like, well, science fiction. But today, many of us interact with robots on a daily basis without giving it a second thought.
Servant robots are becoming more common in both the workplace and the home. I may not be able to count on my Roomba for snarky banter, but I can definitely count on it to clean the floors. In production environments, bulky, single-purpose machines are making way for multi-purpose robots like Baxter, a robot that you can actually train, not program, for a variety of tasks. Durable, trainable, aware of his surroundings and able to interact with simple expressions, Baxter is a huge leap in workplace automation.
But what about that endearing robotic sidekick? Meet NAO, the 58-cm tall humanoid robot. Able to move on his own, recognize your voice and respond, NAO has become a hit in the field of robotics education. Schools employ this tiny robotic friend to help educate students of all ages, from primary school to college, on the basics of programming. And soon, you will be able to bring him home to become a member of your family!
Robots aren’t only good for the workplace, home or classroom. Another emerging field of robotics is therapeutics: robots that help relieve stress, motivate and socialize. PARO, a robotic baby seal, is a replacement for animal therapy, helping those suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia. The Keepon robot helps children with social development disorders. It is a simple, cute robot that can recognize facial expressions, maintain eye contact and help children focus and learn.
While Star Wars may have been set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, the empathetic storyteller C-3PO and the industrious engineer R2-D2 can be found right here, right now. These ARE the droids we’re looking for.
Article “Robots Everywhere” was originally published on “Bench Talk for Design Engineers” at Mouser.com.