A decade of robotics

Zoë Tuithof

The word "robot" first appeared in Karel Capek's "Rossum's Universal Robots" in 1921.[1] "Robot" is derived from the Czech "robota", which means forced labor. The robots in Capek's play looked like humans, but were much more efficient and murderous than their human opponents. With this, Capek laid the foundation for the not-to-be-trusted machine, a trend that can still be felt in 2020.

The definition of "robot"

Both the fictional and the "real" definition of "robot" is elusive, variable and context dependent. In general, the real-life robot has the description: an intelligent and physical machine that can perform tasks autonomously, and which can sense its environment and adapt to it.[2] In this article, we look back on a decade of robotics and take a look at the developments.

2013: Atlas and Diego-San

In 2013, Boston Dynamics developed the humanoid robot "Atlas" for the Darpa Robotics Challenge. In that year and the year of the finals (2015), the robot is not yet fully capable of performing basic tasks. Nevertheless, Boston Dynamics continued to work on it after the finals and Atlas can now do backflips. Perhaps not a basic task, but a major robotic development.

Diego-San is an oversized robot baby whose head was built by Hanson Robotics. His robotic skeleton was developed by Kokoro Company. Baby Diego-San helps researchers understand the child's development, both physically and mentally.[3]

2014: Cheetah, Pepper and newsreaders

In 2014, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) presents its four-legged robot called Cheetah for the first time. In that year this feline robot can already run and jump over obstacles. Cheetah is being developed further over the years; he can even climb stairs in 2018.[4]

In Cheetah's "year of birth", Softbank develops Pepper, a semi-humanoid robot that can walk around (roll), make gestures and have a tablet on its stomach. It is a social robot that can keep you company and have basic conversations. More information about Pepper can be found in the article about Care robots  on our website.

During the exhibition "Android: What is Human?" in Tokyo, professor Hiroshi Ishiguro from Osaka University unveils a couple of robot newsreaders. The couple consists of a girl, Kodomoroid (komodo means "child"), and a woman, Otonaroid (otona means "adult"). The robot newsreaders can - as expected - read the news, but also communicate with people and read tweets with different voices.[5]

2015: Hitchbot

In 2015 Hitchbot hitchhiked through the Netherlands and Germany. Then he continues his way through Canada. The lifting robot is a social experiment; he depends on the charity and "humanity" of people who can give him a ride. Unfortunately, the robot tragically comes to an end when it is damaged by people while hitchhiking.[6]

2016: SpotMini and Sophia

In 2016, another launch by Boston Dynamics, this time with "SpotMini", a four-legged robot that can pick up and handle objects.[7] SpotMini is equipped with depth cameras, stereo cameras and position sensors in its limbs. This allows him - among other things - to be gallant as he is - to keep a door open for another SpotMini. A movie shows up with a man trying to chase the SpotMini away with a hockey stick.[8] You can see if he succeeds in the video below.

Can SpotMini get distracted from its mission?

Sophia debuts as a true robot celebrity at SXSW 2016 (South by Southwest, a festival that takes place annually in Houston, Texas). She is extremely (and perhaps frighteningly) human-built and will learn to walk in 2018. Sophia was created by Hanson Robotics in Hong Kong. She has over 60 human facial expressions and can be interviewed.[9]

2017: "The year robots really, truly arrived"

Wired describes 2017 as the year when robots really make their entrance.[10] In this year, robots are really present in public spaces, and no longer just in factories. They become part of the "real world." In San Francisco, a robot called Marble collects meals and delivers them to the customer's front door. Sony also revives the robot dog Aibo that was taken off the market in 2006 and we see MiRo arrive, a kind of combination of a rabbit, dog and cow. MiRo is designed as part of a safe 'smart home' for vulnerable elderly people.

Furthermore, 2017 is the year of Kuri, a robot that makes many science fiction hearts beat faster. Kuri is a Mayfield Robotics creation in Silicon Valley. The robot is made to roll around your house, respond to your voice and even film your parties.[11]

2018: Monarch, Cheetah and Sophia progress

A major robotic development in surgery is Monarch, a system that allows the surgeon to send a flexible robotic endoscope through the lungs using a game controller. In 2018, the Monarch system will receive "FDA Clearance", meaning it is approved for use as a product / device in the medical world.[12]

In the same year, both Cheetah and Sophia are going through major developments. As mentioned earlier, Cheetah learns to climb stairs and Sophia takes her first robot steps.

2019: Lovot

Lovot is introduced at the beginning of 2019 as a robot to fight loneliness. In appearance, Lovot resembles a cross between a penguin and a seal. The social robot responds to touch and hugs and is designed to provide companionship.[13]

Timeline robotization 2010-2020 (click to enlarge)

2020 and the future: ?

We are curious about what robotics and its very fast developments will bring us in the (near) future. Robots will have to become more and more self-learning in order to develop themselves into an efficient part of our daily life. Because robots are so integrated into this, our attitude towards them will be an important factor in their development and implementation. In the next decade, robots will become stronger, smarter and more practical. That is why we need to start thinking now about the choices we make regarding the role that robots will play in our daily lives and how we will live with them.[14]

Zoë Tuithof is an analyst at ftrprf and wrote this article for the theme Robotization


[1] https://www.wired.com/story/wired-guide-to-robots/

[2] https://www.wired.com/story/wired-guide-to-robots/

[3] https://www.cnet.com/news/the-most-horrifying-robot-baby-youll-ever-meet/

[4]https://www.cnet.com/news/robots-have-jumped-run-and-rolled-a-long-way-in-the-last-10-years/

[5]https://www.cnet.com/news/worlds-first-android-newscasters-unveiled-in-japan/

[6]https://www.cnet.com/news/robots-have-jumped-run-and-rolled-a-long-way-in-the-last-10-years/

[7] https://robots.nu/nl/robot/spotmini

[8] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1LWMk7JB80

[9]https://www.cnet.com/news/robots-have-jumped-run-and-rolled-a-long-way-in-the-last-10-years/

[10] https://www.wired.com/story/wired-guide-to-robots/

[11] https://www.wired.com/story/the-genesis-of-kuri/ 

[12]https://www.cnet.com/news/robots-have-jumped-run-and-rolled-a-long-way-in-the-last-10-years/

[13]https://www.cnet.com/news/robots-have-jumped-run-and-rolled-a-long-way-in-the-last-10-years/

[14]https://www.cnet.com/news/robots-have-jumped-run-and-rolled-a-long-way-in-the-last-10-years/


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