HAL on Earth

Who needs humans? Some robots you may be meeting soon

The World Today Published 1 October 2014 Updated 7 December 2018 1 minute READ

Drone delivery
Google recently unveiled an experimental programme to deliver goods with tiny drones that are a cross between a plane and a helicopter. Amazon hopes to have a similar delivery scheme using a fleet of drones up and running within five years. Octocopters would pick up a yellow box containing a customer’s order and then fly it to the customer’s address using GPS coordinates, dropping it by the front door.

Driverless cars
Nissan last year announced an ‘ambitious goal’ of producing an affordable autonomous car by 2020. Sensory equipment would feed into the vehicle’s computers to calculate the distance to objects and their speed. The Google self-driving car, powered by Google chauffeur software, has a mounted range-finder with a 64-beam laser, which allows the vehicle to generate a 3D map of its environment. The car then takes these generated maps and combines them with high-resolution maps of the world, producing different types of data models that allow it to drive itself.

Ekso Bionics
A bionic exoskeleton, above, designed as wearable robotics allows paraplegics to stand and walk with crutches. The computer uses force and motion sensors to monitor the user’s gestures and movements, and uses this information to interpret the intent of the user and translate it into action.

Mobile robotic fulfilment systems are increasingly being used to automate the process of picking, packing and shipping orders. Items in distribution centres are stored on portable storage units, and when an order is entered, the software locates the robot closest to the item and tells it retrieve it. The mobile robots navigate around the warehouse by following a series of computerized barcode stickers on the floor. Each drive unit has a sensor, which prevents it from colliding with another robot. When the drive unit reaches the target location, it slides underneath the pod and lifts it off the ground through a corkscrew action. The robot then delivers the pod to the collection area. This system is being used by The Gap, Staples and others.

This is a smartphone-controlled robot, below, that moves around your home, projecting video on to the walls. In particular, it runs Android with Google Play access, allowing you to stream from built-in apps such as Netflix or YouTube.

Dyson 360 Eye
A robotic vacuum cleaner with 3D room-mapping uses a single camera that can be controlled remotely via a smartphone app. The new product has already attracted pre-orders from more than 70,000 people in 190 countries, according to Dyson, and will cost around £700.