Robot Rescuers: The Robotics Industry Responds To Japan
After the Tsunami that devastated the coast of Japan, there's a lot of people in the field of robotics who have shifted their research in a different direction. Rescue workers put their lives in great danger every time they enter the field, and there's a lot of places they can't go, situations they can't be in: the risk is simply too great.
What if we could just send in a robot instead?
Founded in 2005 and based in France, Aldebaran is a collection of eighty of some of the most elite scientists, engineers, and programmers in the fields of robotics and artificial intelligence. Founded by Bruno Maisonnier,Aldebaran is "devoted to the development and sale of its products" (Aldebaran Website). They are currently counted as one of the world leaders in the field of humanoid robotics. The reason's pretty clear
Aldebaran is responsible for the development of NAO, a fully programmable humanoid robotic research assistant. They completed this little gizmo in 2007, and have been working to improve it ever since- it's progressed to being able to perform stand-up comedy. (Wikipedia)
So what does all this have to do with Japan's earthquake disaster? Well, Aldebaran has decided that it's going to set to work on a line of disaster relief robots. When questioned on the decision, Maissonier had this to say:
"At this moment, there is a veritable need for robots for our Japanese partners. Aldebaran Robotics is the world leader in humanoid robots which are able to walk; however, we are unable to help. Our robots are designed for research, education and personal assistance and not made for such difficult situations. Following recent events I have decided to immediately invest in the development of all-terrain walking robots able to assis in these types of situations" (Smashing Robots).
As the press release continued, he went on to say "Robots for the well-being of humans is the mission of ALDEBARAN Robotics and the need for this type of robot requires the expertise of many actors. We have thus contributed to the creation of Cap Robotique, THE French cluster dedicated to the development and innovation in the field of service robotics, a market which represents $3.3B in 2010"(Engadget).
The End Result
The question remains, however, what role, if any, NAO might serve here. For all we know, Aldebaran might just be planning on building an entirely new machine-based on NAO's original technology, of course- to help out people suffering through a time of crisis. If they choose the former, NAO's role might be confined to delivering food and water to survivors, or locating those who need to be rescued- which is still extremely impressive, and a massive technological leap forward. If they choose the latter, however...Well, the sky's the limit. Seems likely they it might not hurt to contact folks like Daniel Shankland II, responsible for the development of a 600-part scale model, seen on the right. (Dvice)
Very cool. Here's hoping more companies start following in Aldebaran's footsteps.True, they've already contracted a few allies in this endeavor, but the more people who start working on a project like this, the sooner we'll see a world where robots begin literally saving lives.