The basic premise of Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) was originally that human intelligence is predictable enough that it can be simulated with computers. As such, A.I. is a broad field involving many areas of research. This includes computer vision, language recognition, decision-making.
In more recent years, A.I. has also acquired other challenges including machine learning/ deep learning, as well as robotics as a whole. In fact, if you were to ask the average person what they thought of when someone mentions “artificial intelligence,” it’s likely they would say “robots” — thanks to pop culture: TV shows, movies, comics, books and toys.
While not every robot has A.I. features, and some are merely toys that move around, robots are associated with A.I. by the general public. Our pop culture vision of robots is that they have some of the manifestation of simulated human behavior: vision, language recognition, physical responsiveness to our voice commands, physical responsiveness to surroundings, motion, decision making. The list goes on.
In this graphic we focus on facts and figures for the robotics aspect of Artificial Intelligence.
Pop Culture Robots
A.I. has appeared in pop culture for decades, especially in science fiction TV shows and films. Here are a few examples of robots, androids (humanoid robots), and cyborgs (cybernetic organisms: living entities enhanced by robotics) — a by no means exhaustive list.
- Robbie the Robot originally appeared in the 1956 film Forbidden Planet , then later appeared in many other films and several TV shows (Lost In Space, The Monkees, Wonder Woman and dozens more.)
- R2-D2 (not really an android) and C-3PO (android robot) were the Laurel and Hardy of robots in Star Wars.
- Star Trek: the computer and Commander Data (android). In some Star Trek series and films, the Borg — cybernetically-enhanced humanoids — were the primary antagonists.
- In Battlestar Galactica (2003/ 2004 series), the enemy Cylons are a “cybernetic race” trying to wipe out humans. (In the original 1978 and 1980 TV series, the Cylons were a reptilian race that created robots (also called Cylons). Cylon = Cybernetic Lifeform Node.
- In the 1986 animated film Tenku no Shiro Rapyuta (English: Castle in the Sky), Rapyuta is a castle in the sky inhabited by robots. Rapyuta is also the name of the RoboEarth.org Cloud Engine, a “platform-as-a-service” framework for robots.
- The 2001 film Artificial Intelligence: A.I. revisits the Pinocchio storyline, with actor Haley Joel Osment playing an advanced robot boy longing to be real.
- In the 2011 film Real Steel, robot boxing is a popular sport. (However, these robots are controlled by humans, so the amount of artificial intelligence in them is much less than, say, Robbie the Robot.)
- In the 2012 film Robot & Frank, Frank is a retired jewel thief who plans a jewel heist with the robot butler gifted to him by his son.
- In the Fall 2013 TV series Almost Human, law enforcement officers work with android robots – some generations closely resembling humans, some not.
Artificial Lifeforms and Autonomous Robots
There is now a multitude of non-humanoid robots and robot creatures — some available commercially, others still research projects. Here are just a few.
- The Roomba domestic vacuum cleaner robot is created by iRobot, a company co-founded by Rodney Brooks, whose MIT lab also created six-legged insectoid robots programmed to behave like bugs.
- iRobot has sold over 10 million of a variety of domestic robots worldwide, including 7M units of Roomba in 50 countries by early 2013.
- iStruct robotic ape, which can stand on its hind legs.
- A variety of robot “dogs” and large “cats”.
- Robot snakes. There is more than one snakelike robot, but KAIRO, a wheeled, segmented version is designed for rescue tasks, such as pulling a stretcher with a person on it over possibly rough terrain.
- Another snake bot — ACM-R5H, built by HiBot with customizable segments — is amphibious and has a solitary “eye” (camera) at the front. It also has small wheels for land use.
- Self-assembling robot cubes, aka M-Blocks, that spin and flip and work as a group to form multiple 2- and 3D geometric shapes. There are also smaller cubes known as Smart Pebbles that can form 2D shapes.
- Janken is a robot that can beat humans in Rock Paper Scissors games by detecting your hand movements quickly enough to change its strategy.
- Lauron V is a hexapod robot.
- Bipedal robot AMBER walks like a human being. Granted, AMBER is only the bottom half (waist, legs, feet), and is attached to an arm that lets it walk in a large circle.
- HyQ is a quadruped robot that knows how not to fall when it stumble over rough terrain.
- RHex is a leaping, bug-like robot that can jump over gaps.
- Sand Flea is a 4-wheeled robot that can jump vertically at heights of over 30 feet.
- Kirobo is a talking toy robot that went to outer space on Aug 21, 2013.
- Sphero is a spherical toy robot that spins and rolls and flashes.
- LSSA is a 4-legged, headless packhorse robot designed by DARPA and tested by the Marines to carry supplies around.
Robots: The Numbers
Robots fall into two categories: industrial and service. Industrial robots are typically used in manufacturing and are typically robot arms that are fixed in place, but there are mobile industrial robots. Service robots can include both professional and personal / domestic use and are usually capable of some movement, but sometimes require remote control.
IEEE Spectrum claims at least 7.3M service robots and about 1.3M industrial robots worldwide by early 2010, for a total of 8.6M robots. That’s nearly the then population (8.7M) of the state of New Jersey — a figure that has quite possibly more than doubled in 2013.
- By the end of 2012, between 1.235-1.500 million industrial robots were in use worldwide – based on the expectation of 12-15 years of usage life span for industrial robots.
- The 2012 market for industrial robot sales worldwide was $8.7M — a 2% increase from 2011.
- The 2nd highest number of industrial robots sold was in 2012, with about 160K (159,346) units worldwide — a decrease of about 4% from 2011.
- 70% of 2012 robot sales went collectively to Japan, China, United States, Korea and Germany (from highest sales to lowest in this group).
- China is expected to be the top user of industrial robots by 2014, due to rising wages.
- Countries in North and South America (Brazil, Canada, Mexico, USA) collectively purchased 28,100 industrial robots in 2012 — a 7% increase from 2011. Of that number, the United States purchased 22,414 units in 2012 — an increaes of about 9% from 2011.
- 8% is the CAGR (compound annual rate of growth), in the period 2007-2012, for industrial robots sold to the U.S.
- In 2013, Glory Ltd ended up with an assembly line in one factory (north of Tokyo, Japan) run entirely by humanoid robots — primarily due to disinterest amongst youth in having factory jobs.
- The automotive industry is one of the largest users of industrial robots, buying about 40% of 2012 supplies. This industry also has the highest robot-to-employee density: there are about 1,091 robots per 10K employees in the USA (4th highest in automotive), compared to a density of 76 in the U.S. for other industries.
The top 5 countries with the highest “robot density” (number of industrial robots for every 10,000 human workers) in 2012 were:
- 347 — South Korea
- 339 — Japan
- 261 — Germany
- 159 — Italy
- 157 — Sweden
Service robots fall into 2 categories: professional and personal. Professional service robots sometimes require some human remote control, and are more likely to rely on sensors for decision-making.
- 16,067 professional service robots were sold worldwide in 2012 — a value of US$3.42B, and an approximate increase of 2% from 2011 (15,776 units).
- About 126,000 total professional service robots are accounted for by the IFR (International Federation of Robotics) since 1998.
- 40% (6,200 units) of professional service robots sold in 2012 were for defense applications, with unmanned aerial vehicles topping the list of uses in Defense.
- Medical robot sales were relatively small in 2012 (1,308 units or about 8% of the professional service robot market), but the sales increase from 2011 was 20%. Robot-assisted surgeries and therapy were the most common applications with 1,053 units out of 1,308 — an increase over 2011 of 6%.
- Other less common professional service robot uses are in construction and demolition, professional cleaning, inspection and maintenance, rescue and security, mobile robot platforms and underwater systems.
- For personal and domestic use, about 3 million service robots were sold in 2012 — a 20% increase over 2011 — for a value of US$1.2B. Of that number, 1.96M were domestic robots, and 1.1M were entertainment robots. Common uses in the personal and domestic category are domestic (household) including vacuum/ floor cleaners, lawn-mowing, entertainment and leisure (toys, hobby systems, education and research).
- Handicap assistance service robots only accounted for 159 units in 2012.
- Important future uses will be in the areas of home security and surveillance, and personal transportation.
- A number of car makers are promising self-driving vehicles, including Toyota, Tesla, Nissan, BMW and Mercedes.
- Google’s self-driving Street View vehicles for Google Maps are already in operation, and they’ve received patents for some of the technology. However, these vehicles are not available to the public.
- Automated parking and lane-changing are already features in some vehicles. Other cars offer special sensors to warn of potentially dangerous situations ahead. The expectation for the appearance of fully-automated (“Autonomous Drive” technology) cars is between 2020-2025, but such announcements by car makers are considered hype by some experts.
- One speculation about Google’s motivation to build driverless cars is for the potential demand from an aging population of America and the world in general. Whether Google ends up buying a car maker or simply licenses its self-driving technology out, there’s a potential multi-billion-dollar marketplace for them in having people not drive. That’s not just from the driving technology, because when someone hands over driving tasks to a robot-controlled car, they’ll probably use a mobile device to pass their time, potentially earning Google revenues from various web services. Or so goes some speculation.
- To wit, of 250M American adults, 119M work. 76% drive to work alone, spending an average of 1 hour round-trip daily. With 260 workdays/ year, the estimate is an extra 23.51 billion person-hours of freed up time (a gain of 1.6%) from self-driving vehicles in the USA alone — time that might be used to surf the Internet, potentially resulting in an extra $730M-$2B in web search revenues yearly, worldwide, for Google.
Health Care Robots
- 1.5 billion people currently 65+ years old are expected to be alive in 2050.
- With life expectancies now into the low-90s for some developed countries, some governments are setting aside budget money to build robots for use in elderly care.
- Japan has a particularly unique problem, with a combination of low birth rates, increased life expectancy, and a strong anti-immigration policy.
- As of 2011, 22% of Japan’s population was already 65 or older.
- It’s estimated that 700,000 immigrants yearly would be needed to keep the Japanese population going, as well as provide labor, starting from 2011 onwards.
- Only 50,000 work visas were being issued yearly by Japan to foreigners.
- 2.39B yen (approximately US$23.56M at the time of writing) of the 2013 Japanese federal budget is for the development of health care robots. This includes a 24-fingered robot for hair washing and head massage for people with limited arm movement.
- In Japan in 2012, 1.03M million babies were born and 1.24M million people died — for a net decline of 210,000 people
- The Japanese population is expected to decline by an average of 1 million people yearly for the next 2 decades.
- A similar situation, of having health care robots, could happen in the USA, where the population is also aging and about 200,000 elderly people yearly break a leg from falling. Robots could be rented out at less than the cost of human health care workers — which some elderly people cannot afford.
- In Japan, non-humanoid robot guides looking like a cross between a Star Wars “droid” and a cartoon robot were removed from hospitals because they made patients uncomfortable. It appears that each culture has its own “uncanny valley” — a hypothetical point where a robot is so life-like, but not completely so, that human beings are turned off or made uncomfortable by the robot. The less life-like a humanoid robot, the less the observed revulsion factor. People, especially the elderly in Japan, still prefer human care over robots.
- An alternative being considered in Japan is robot pets, including Paro, a robotic pet seal with simulated empathic responses.
- Over 1,000 Paros were being used by early 2011 in Japanese hospitals and nursing homes.
- Another 1,000 Paros were to be introduced in 2011 in nursing facilities in Denmark.
- $9M was spent developing the Paro.
- A possible future application of healthcare robots: babysitting or childcare.
Other Uses of Robots and Artificial Intelligence
- Crawler bots that can climb vertically (with supporting cables) are being used to check nuclear power plant containment towers for potential cracks.
- Autonomous underwater robots (aka sea drones) are being used in a research project coordinated by Rutgers University to better understand the mid-Atlantic ocean (collecting water temperature, salinity, oxygen levels etc.). These sea drones cost $125-150K each and can dive 650 feet, relaying data by satellite communications after surfacing.
- Argo ocean-going robots costing $30K have been in use since 2000. By 2007, the fleet size reached 3,000. These robots can dive to 6,500 feet, and passed a milestone in 2013 of 1 million data points logged. So it took about 13 years for the Argo fleet to collect the same amount data collected by ship in the entire 20th century.
- Papa Mau, another ocean-going robot, set a record in late 2012 by traveling from San Francisco to Australia — a distances of over 10,000 miles — powered by solar power and waves.
- Zee Aero is working on a “personal aviation” flying vehicle that may or may not be funded by Google X (research arm), and thus may or may not be intended to be self-driving. Given that driving a flying vehicle in the U.S. requires a pilot’s license, thus reducing the potential market for such vehicles, some speculation is that it makes market sense to have self-flying vehicles running on technology similar to Google’s self-driving cars.
- RoboKind in Dallas, Texas, has their Zeno R25 robot billed in a Kickstarter.com fund-raising campaign as “the 1st affordable advanced social robot”. Their 22-inch tall humanoid shaped robot can walk, has voice recognition, and can make a variety of facial expressions including smiling and frowning. Cost? US$2,699 and up, plus $200 shipping outside the USA.
- U.S. troops in Afghanistan have used over 2,000 robots. The military has used over 5,000 ground robots in total – a significant change from 0 in 2002.
- QBotix makes a robot that optimizes the angle of solar panel arrays, moving along a monorail and adjusting panels depending on the time of day. This reduces the cost of having self-adjusting panels, and supposedly increases the production of electricity by about 15%.
- Jellyfish are causing about US$300M in damage and losses collectively to fisheries, power plants and other infrastructures in South Korea, not to mention harming beachgoers. To combat the jellyfish, a floating robot, JEROS (Jellyfish Elimination Robotic Swarm), has been developed which uses computer vision to identify jellyfish. A group of JEROS surround jellyfish and… dispose of them – to the rate of 900 kilograms (about 1,980 pounds) per hour.
Future Military Applications of Robots and A.I.
While robots are already being used by the U.S. military, and drone aircraft are used in war, the latter at least are typically remotely piloted by a person and are thus not robots. What if they were? What if drones were given the ability to make decisions on their own to shoot to kill or not? Or if ground robots were given this ability?
Lethal autonomous robots (LARs) are already under consideration for development as a future use of A.I. in the military. The fact that drones are considered to be hackable using inexpensive technology, however, makes the prospect of a LAR drone frightening.
Robot Employees vs Human Employees
While the IFR (International Federation of Robotics) published reports (see ifr.org links in Reference section) indicating that “robots save jobs,” articles elsewhere suggest otherwise. The gist is that robots can work longer hours for no pay and not complain about that. While there are costs associated with using robots, it appears that for the manufacturing sector at least, the costs can be recouped in 2-3 years, sometimes a little bit longer.
- Foxconn, a Chinese electronics manufacturer contracted by Apple and many other large consumer electronics makers, announced in July 2011 a plan to replace some of its workers with 1 million robots over 3 years (i.e, by end of 2014) — an increase from the 10,000 industrial robots already in use.
- The company had 1.2M workers at the time of the announcement, and has had a string of workplace suicides since 2010, reportedly due to harsh work conditions.
- Camera and photography accessories maker Canon also announced plans in 2012 to have full automation in some of their factories — with a target of 2015 start date.
To get a sense of how important artificial intelligence, especially robotics, might be in the near future, consider what Google has been up to lately:
- In Dec 2013, Google purchased Boston Dynamics, an engineering company designing robots for the Pentagon and some of their clients, including DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency).
- Boston Dynamics, founded in 1992, is the 8th robotics company Google purchased in a 6-month period in 2013. (Google said it had no plans to release financial information about these purchases.)
- Their 2- and 4-legged robots include BigDog, Cheetah, WildCat and Atlas — many of which have ambulatory behaviors similar to the animals for which they’re named.
- Possible uses for the acquired robotics technology include warehouse and delivery robots as well as health care/ elder care robots.
- BigDog’s YouTube video has been viewed over 15M times since its debut in 2008.
- 29 mph was the speed the Cheetah robot reached on a treadmill in 2013.
- The previous record for a legged robot was 13.1 mph in 1999.
- Jamaica’s Olympic medalist Usain Bolt was clocked at a top speed of about 27.8 mph in 2012 in a 100-meter dash.
- Real cheetahs can reach 65 mph.
- Boston Dynamics has a $10.8M contract with DARPA to supply humanoid robots (Altas) for DARPA’s Robotics Challenge (which has a $2M prize).
Information for this article was collected from the following pages and web sites: