Science fiction is quickly taking a back seat to science fact. Just look at a new report by the country’s leading roboticists. By 2030, it says, robots will be everywhere.
At the gym, they’ll help you train. In operating rooms, flea-sized robots will zip through your blood vessels to repair tissues. Using voice commands and hand gestures, humans will control robots in the cold vacuum of space, while bots deep underwater and high in the air will collaborate to protect the U.S. from natural disasters and military threats.
That’s the robot future envisioned by researchers at top U.S. universities including Georgia Tech, MIT, Stanford and Carnegie Mellon. In the collaborative report, they predict that robots will become “as ubiquitous over the next decades as computer technology is today.”
At home and in the operating room
In surgery, robots will not only match human skills, by 10 and 15 years from now, they will likely surpass them.
First come the snake-like robots, performing endoscopic surgeries. After about 10 years, untethered robots about a centimeter across will be sent into the body to “remove polyps or modulate blood flow,” according to the report. Think “Fantastic Voyage,” minus the teeny tiny Raquel Welch. Fifteen years out, these robots will have shrunk to the size of fleas, to “swim through bodily fluids and bore through tissue to perform highly localized therapies.”
Advances in miniaturization will help this trend pan out as predicted, Henrik Christensen — director of the Center for Robotics and Intelligent Machines at Georgia Tech, and co-author of the robotics report — told NBC News. At a recent conference, researchers showed they could track and control the movements of a magnetic bacterium inside a tiny maze.
Exoskeletons like Ekso and Indego are already becoming lighter, easier to wear and use. In 10 years, prosthetics will begin to “match that of biological capabilities,” and yes, “Iron Man” fans, in 15 years, they “will enable the human user to become better than human.” (Just don’t expect your supersuit to come with pulsating energy weapons.
Robot butlers will help bathe and dress people with disabilities, not just in doctor’s offices or hospitals, but at home.
“For people who have lost their memory, even simple things like remembering to get food and water are very hard,” Christensen said. “Having a robot that reminds you, ‘Did you get your water?’ or ‘Did you have lunch?’ — that’s a huge deal.”
Robots for health care have been developing slower than anticipated, Christensen said, but that’s in part due to the delicacy of their work. “We need to be comfortable that they are really good enough before we’re able to give them more functionality.”
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