If your idea of a robot is a mechanical man, then
you have to admit that the Japanese are way ahead in
the robot business. For years they have been working
to create a self-contained functional mechanical man.
They have a face that shows emotion although its
just a head. And they have the best two-legged walking
machines. Integrating walking and carrying things in
hands is also their forte. The robot waiter on the front
page is one of their latest and best efforts. I for
one think they are on the wrong track. I prefer my waitresses
to joke with me and tell me their war stories. And in
my view people are pretty badly engineered. We have
back trouble because we dont walk well, and we
cant lift much compared to an ant. Our forte is
a big brain, not a classy chassis.
Years ago when all this began with computers and automatic
controls, the powers that be tried to come up with a
definition of a robot. Any machine with the ability
to make choices (computer control) and had articulated
arms was a robot. So it was that a computer-controlled
painting machine was a robot even though it was stationary,
had only one arm and a rudimentary computer. Meanwhile,
a computer-controlled milling machine with a very complex
brain (control system) was not a robot because it had
no arm. Most of these industrial robots were stationary
or at best slid back and forth on a base that was bolted
to the floor. They could be and were plugged into the
They also were and still are a pain in the neck. They
have EMC problems so bad that they interfere with themselves.
Thats why theyre considered design problems
and design engineers fix them. Once the robots can live
with themselves they are probably immune to external
EMI. I mean, they have onboard arc welders that trash
every radio receiver within a ten-mile radius, and they
tend not to interfere with other equipment because,
if the onboard noisemakers are suppressed so that the
onboard computer will work, it wont interfere
with anything else in a factory. Once they start mixing
with the rest of us in the world outside of factories
there will be a lot of work for EMC engineers making
the robots work in the near field of a RADAR or next
to a pacemaker.
People are anything but mechanical marvels. In fact,
the best walkers are probably insects. A three-legged
stool is stable on the most uneven of floors. The insects
walk on six legs. They stand on one three-legged stool
while lifting and advancing the other, then they repeat
the process by lifting the stool they were standing
upon while standing on the other. They always have at
least three feet on the floor and are always stable.
They never trip and fall.
Spiders and crabs are even more effective because they
have eight legs. Six to walk on and two for arms to
carry groceries or whatever. The idea of a robot the
size of a grand piano that looks like a spider scares
the hell out of me. When it carries the goodies home,
guess who will be the groceries.
You see, the robots will need power. If they move from
place to place, power from the mains is out. Also, both
computers and electric motors take lots of power. Right
now they are replacing batteries in hand-held computers
with fuel cells so that the batteries dont poop
out before you get to Los Angeles on your flight from
La Guardia. Batteries, by the way, are a mature technology
so we cant expect a significant breakthrough in
batteries. But fuel cells are something else and the
big road block to using them is catalysts, so a few
advanced thinkers are making headway using enzyme chemistry.
That is, a living, bacterial, fuel cell has already
been built and shows promise. Get the picture? The robot
the size of a grand piano is going to eat food to do
its thing a giant titanium bug that eats meat.
On second thought maybe the Japanese have the right
idea make a robot that is as inept as we are
so we have a fighting chance against them. With luck
they will also be susceptible to EMI and we can jam
them if we have too.