Robotics | Industrial and Humanoid – The Future

Robotics | Industrial and Humanoid – The Future

Louis Sztayer Edwards
IORMA Researcher

Technology has become one of if not THE defining feature of the 21st  Century and will likely only become more relevant as the years go on. It has become so expansive that we can look at nearly every aspect of our lives and see it involved in some manner. One of the most intriguing aspects of technology, is none other than robotics. Robotics is defined as being the sector of work that is involved with the construction and usage of robots, machines that are capable of carrying out either a specific, or even a range of different tasks almost instantly. Though this may seem pretty straightforward, the ideas for what a typical robot is, may differ from person-to-person.

For example, some would picture a robot as a fully autonomous, humanoid-formed machine that could carry out tasks that we could (to an extent). On the other hand, others may choose to view a robot simply as a machine that can be programmed to carry out even the most mundane of tasks, making the likes of 3D printers, and coffee makers considered to be robots. Despite the disparity in definitions however, it doesn’t change the fact that robotics as a whole has been continuously growing, and has even become more prominent within social media circles, with the YouTube channel, Boston Dynamics (Boston Dynamics – YouTube), becoming a figurehead of sorts, for showing how fast robotics is growing. Their channel contains multiple videos with millions of views on them, showing different robotic forms carrying out different tasks such as picking up and moving boxes, doing parkour, and even carrying out dance routines to old Motown tracks! They have done a phenomenal job of not just demonstrating what robotics are capable of, but also doing it in a way that can be considered to be more fun too, and shining a positive light on the subject, because whilst there are many things to look forward to about the future of robotics, there still remain many questions on how their introduction will affect human employment or how humans and robots are expected to co-exist peacefully when humans can’t even do that on their own. Regardless, we are now moving into an era where we need to take all possibilities into consideration, as robotics continues to develop at a faster rate.

The idea of the “robot” has changed multiple times over the course of the years, and we can see different perceptions of what a robot is through many different forms of media. Sometimes it can be depicted as a compliant laborer, made to fulfil a specific duty, and other times they can be depicted in a more malevolent way, with their sole goal being to “conquer the earth” and/or “wipeout humanity”. Truth be told though; nobody really knows what they’ll look like, or how’ll they will act once incorporated into society fully, and this mainly because the trajectory of AI is very unpredictable. We have seen sudden leaps, even as recent as this year, with open-source projects such as DALL-E mini, allowing for the creation of AI-generated art based on a prompt given to it by the user. But even with these developments, AI is still nowhere near ready for taking on any “human” jobs. AI and machine learning is still very reliant on a trial-and-error based system, and whilst we are still very prone to errors in the world of work, I would say that we are better and faster at learning from these errors and as well as this, there are still many ethical considerations that need to take place before they are a part of our everyday lives. There would likely also be groups that are very skeptical and could potentially lead to conflict in the future. So, whilst there have been many technological developments in the last decade, we shouldn’t expect to see any bona-fide, humanoid, AI- controlled robotics for a good while. I personally believe that even when the robots are theoretically ready, the acceptance of the general population could be a big stumbling block for them. On top of the fact that robots have been villainized in many forms of pop-culture (e.g terminator and more recently, black mirror), getting unanimous support of robots in workplaces may prove to be impossible, but regardless, there should be efforts put in place to make sure that when this does occur, we have full knowledge and awareness of what they are capable, and that they are regulated safely.

The future for robotics is extremely expansive, as we have seen many potential concepts of what they could do and how helpful they could potentially be through contemporary media. One of the biggest questions we have to ask ourselves however is, when/if robots start to become more self-autonomous, how do we work an ethical system around them? World renowned writer Isaac Asimov (who also first coined the term “robotics”) introduced the idea of “three laws of robotics” in a short story called “Runaround”.  These three rules entailed that: robots must not harm a human life in anyway or for any reason, they must follow any and all instructions from a human (unless it puts another human’s life at risk), and that it must look after itself, although doing this cannot interfere with either of the first to laws. This can be linked to the origins of the term “Robot”, which derives from the Czech term Robota, which is closely associated with “servitude” and “forced labor”, clearly showing how robots were/are intended to be used. Similarly, the play Rossum’s Universal Robots by Karel Čapek in 1920, first introduced the term “robot”, but also brought up the question of whether a fully autonomous robot contains a soul. This however is a philosophical question that might never find itself an objective answer, as is that of the human soul. There are plenty of different forms of media nowadays that entertain these philosophical/ethical questions about robotics, so as to provide us with different ways of seeing things about them. One of my favorites of these forms can be seen in the manga “Pluto” by Naoki Urasawa, whereby a world exits where humans and robots coexist as independent beings, and there being different conflicts between the two groups (and even within each group) that bring a strong sense of realism into it, that a world with humans and robots may not be so much better than it is right now. In fact, there’s exists a very real possibility that it could be much worse given the possibilities that war may have with that kind of technology on our hands. Nonetheless, there still remain many possibilities for our future with the potential of robotics, so the most we can do is hope that wherever it goes, it ends up in the right hands.

As well as all the news-worthy, giant-scale innovations that are occurring within the world of robotics, there are numerous localized, and more individual benefits to having robotics around us too. Despite the fact that we are still quite far away from self-autonomous robots, there are already many smaller, specialized ones out there that are actually already available to be purchased. One of the more popular of these is the aptly named “Roomba”. These small, circular robotic hoovers have become more prominent in the last few years, as they have become more advanced, but they have been around much longer than most would think, with them still being available 2 decades ago (Roomba Robot Vacuum Cleaner | National Museum of American History ( ). Despite seeming like a luxury, they are a great benefit to those who may suffer from a physical disability and may find using a regular hoover debilitating for them. Whilst not perfect, they remain a good show of the potential of how inclusive the world of robotics can be. Another form of robotics that has and is continuing to help people out, is the development of 3d-printing. Whilst it may not seem like a robot, it still fits many of the definitions put in place for it. 3D printing for me is the epitome of the fast-growing technological landscape. It has truly taken the world by storm and is continuing to expand on that through branches such as bio-printing, where the replication of organic matter is being involved. Already we have seen people complete projects of making 3D-printed houses (3D-printed house in Germany: a new way of building | Gira_ ), it’s usage in the fashion world ( Dutch Designer Iris van Herpen on 3-D Printing and the Future of Fashion | Vogue ) and even forms of transportation (Watch a Giant 3D Printer Spit out an Entire Boat ( ). 3D printing is a transformative manufacturing innovation, with it being significantly less wasteful than any of the other substitutes, and can also utilize materials that are better for the environment such as Polylactic acid (PLA). Whilst there are certain restrictions at the moment, it’s likely that over time 3D-printing will improve upon these, and hopefully become a universally accepted and used form of manufacturing.

In the medical field, there is already heavy usage of many types of technologies that are vital to the workers within them, these can range from the (relatively) simple computer databases used to hold and keep track of patient information, all the way to the complexity of the tools used in radiology. Through this we can see that this is an area that technology has been vital in improving, and that we can use this to keep pushing forward. Robotics could absolutely be of use in this area of work, and it can be seen that work has already started on implementing this. We can see this through the robot known as “Saul”, a UV wave dispensing machine used in order to completely sanitize hospital rooms. Through this we can decrease the likelihood of healthcare-associated infections, which is especially important during times of pandemics, such as the Covid outbreak of the last few years. Saul is not the only of its kind though, there are already many different types of sanitization robots (such as the IPT-3200), and their usage is slowly growing, with the EU receiving their first batch of them only last year. Hopefully we will continue to see their usage grow further, as they become more effective over time. This is not the only use of robotics in the medical sector however, for one of the more “involved” robots, we should look at the “Da Vinci surgical system”. This robotic system allows for surgeons to carry out minimally invasive procedures on patients by placing them in front of a console, through which they can control a set of instruments that have a greater range of motion than the human arm. The console also has a vision system, which allows for the surgeons to see in more detail and also with greater depth perception as the image displayed is magnified to around 10 times more than what the human eye can. (

All in all, both of these forms of robotics just go to show how valuable the area of robotics can possibly be to the greater public, and this is still early days for the possibilities of robotics. There may very well be a day in the future where we will no longer have to worry about the risks of surgeries, as we could have robots be carrying them out with significantly higher success rates due to human error being a non-factor. Having more robots around in the workplace could also reduce the strain on the human workers, allowing both humans and robots to work at their best, in unison.

To conclude, robotics is an extremely versatile branch of technology, with the potential to be life changing for those who may not have the same quality of life as others do. When it becomes intertwined with other forms of technology, we can find to solutions to issues that may have appeared impossible otherwise. An example of this can be seen with Elon Musk’s Neuralink, a company pushing for the development of linking the human brain and technology together seamlessly. Despite there being many ethical concerns with this, on paper it could be immensely helpful to amputees, for example, as an artificial leg or arm that is completely controlled by the brain would be a very significant upgrade on any pre-existing ones. The issue with this however, same as the issue with most forms of robotics is how accessible they will be. If in the future there still remains a great wealth gap, then what would be the point in developing these technologies, for it only to be accessible by the top 1%? I cannot say for sure what would be a feasible way of solving this issue, but I believe it is one that must be discussed, as I think that the expansiveness and potential of robotics should not just be shared by the rich, but just by those who would see a genuine quality of life increase from it, because the betterment of human life should be what we all strive for, especially in an area as groundbreaking as robotics.

Elon Musk presents humanoid robot Optimus

IORMA Disruptive Technologies Strategy Director

Elon Musk reveals a humanoid robot at Tesla AI Day 2022

Video courtesy of The Verge

Elon Musk and Tesla Engineers Answer Audience Questions at Tesla AI Day 2022

Video Courtesy CNET

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