What is a Robot?

A dream. The common definition of a robot, as situated and embodied, is incredibly broad.  Robots, or parts of them, are developed constantly and subsumed into other ‘things’ or technical assemblages. Your car is a robot. Increasingly, so is your phone.

I say that a robot is whatever a roboticist is working on. But really, most robotics research is absorbed into other things, and what we call a robot has a lot to do with a vision. A dream of a robot that is personable and a slave to human needs. A robot has an animal or humanoid body that we can relate to socially.

We are on the verge of changes in robot technology and development that will revolutionize what a robot is. It starts as toys, hidden technologies and transparent interfaces. It started with the Kinect, the smart phone and the cloud.

Now, you might say I’m a dreamer…. but here are some really great recent examples of the increasing democratization of robotics technology that indicate the fundamental ways the ground is shifting as we move into SME and consumer robotics.

DragonBot from MIT’s Personal Robotics Group is powered by an Android smart phone. Kombusto, the DragonBot is blended reality, living on your phone as well as in the fur. Being a cloud based robot, Kombusto can learn from other robots/interactions. (Image from IEEE Spectrum article Wed Dec 14)

Parrot AR drones, Romotivs and Sphero, utilising smart phone controllers, also open the door to cloud based robotics and crowd sourced learning for devices. Another approach is Brainlink, using smartphones – or other interfaces – to hack existing infrared controlled devices, via a bluetooth ‘brainlink’ to imbue cheap toys with extra intelligence. Brainlink is only $125, open source and eminently hackable. They also won an educational award at Maker Faire earlier this year.

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