Friday, December 02, 2005

Robotics Pioneer Says Research is Misdirected

By Deborah Cameron

Behind those flirting eyes and underneath that weird stuff that might be skin is the future, so they think, in robot land. Who do they think they're fooling?

Certainly not Joe Engelberger, the father of modern robotics, who emerged exasperated from a visit to the international robot show in Tokyo to stick a prong right into the circuitry of the Japanese industry.

"These are toys that are being made," he said during an "oh heaven help me" plea to an audience of scientists and industry representatives in Tokyo this week.

"Nothing serious. Just stunts. There are dogs, dolls, faces that contort and are supposed to express emotion on a robot."

Mr Engelberger, an American, founded the world's first company making industrial robots in 1961 and became a specialist maker of robots for hospitals.

It was, he said, pointless, expensive and unnecessary for Japan, which today makes three-quarters of the world's robots, to tinker with trivial inventions such as robotic house sitters that rang to say there was a burglary going on.

It made more sense to use the formidable amount of research it had already done on personal robot technology to apply it to machines made for tasks that actually needed doing.

Such as robots that could be told by elderly or infirm people to fetch a book from a shelf or find the TV remote or get a beer from the fridge.

So why isn't more work being done? Mainly, Mr Engelberger thinks, it's because everyone is immersed in needless research and companies are distracted by the uneconomic quest for the humanoid, which he derides as toy making.

Robot, kindly bring me a beer from the fridge - Technology -


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