Say Hello To R2, And To The Future

When the space shuttle Discovery finally reaches the international space station, it will bring a visitor that will stay there for a long, long time.  The visitor is called R2 — a robot that represents another advance in robotics.

R2 currently consists of a head, a torso, and arms, so he won’t be moving around the space station at first.  (I suppose R2 technically should be referred to as “it,” but how can you not assign human terms to a humanoid figure?)  His golden head includes five cameras, his arms and hands are amazingly dextrous, and his abdomen is a mass of electronics.  Initially, R2 will be working at a taskboard that will show his capabilities.  The video below gives an interesting glimpse of what R2 can do — including his weight-lifting abilities.  It appears, however, that R2 is still directed and controlled by humans.  I imagine that the next, key step in robot development will be creation of a sensory processing device that will allow robots to perceive circumstances and independently decide what task to undertake next.

I think we are on the cusp of huge leaps forward in robotic technology, and R2 is just one of many steps in the process.  I wonder:  how long will it take before robots are offered to the public, and at affordable prices?  In my lifetime will we see household robots that do the dishes, fold the laundry, and tidy up the house while we are away at work?

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