Dumb bots do it better

Steven Skaar, a robotics professor at Notre Dame, thinks there’s a kind of Emperor’s New Clothes world where academicians won’t admit to themselves or others how little progress they are actually making.

Skaar made a wheelchair that can take its occupant among just a handful of destinations — the toilet, the kitchen, the bed. And it makes this journey very slowly. Skaar’s students taught the chair its course by pushing it along all the permutations of possible routes and methodically saving them in the robot’s memory.

This simple robot, Skaar argues, is about as good as a robot gets.
Activities we take for granted — distinguishing between the bottle of shampoo and the lamp, deciding whether to switch it on or pull it off the shelf — turn out to be hard tasks for robots, partly because we don’t really know how we do them ourselves.


Skaar believes that since robotic technology is at a “dead end”, we should make pretty dumb robots that do what they do well. The future, he contends, is going to belong to androids with robotic arms spot-welding the same joint in the same car at the same spot on the assembly line.

Quicktime video.

Via The New York Times.