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Rise of the machines?

Posted on 15th June 2011 in Interesting Stuff
Written by: Nick Clancy

By its very nature, the future is an uncertain place. Predicting it is fraught with pitfalls and dead ends.

When we look back to programmes like Tomorrow’s World, our utopian future painted in garish browns and greens was often underpinned by the certainty that domestic robots would aid us in our everyday lives, yet in spite of the technological advances in recent decades, this future has, in almost every way failed to materialise.

We’ve all seen the Honda robot that can climb stairs, and the creepy Japanese fembot “intimacy companion”. Some may even have spent Christmas morning watching their Mum excitedly unwrap a parcel only to discover disappointedly that it is one of those rubbish automatic hoovers.

Yet in the age of ultimate convenience, are we really any nearer to realising a tomorrow’s world of domestic slave droids?
If news from Munich, broken in many of today’s newspapers is anything to go by, the answer could be yes.

Yes if you like your sausages Bavarian, boiled and made by a pair of binoculars with robotic arms, that is.

Munich’s Technical University, in partnership with U.S robotics firm Willow Garage have very recently held a cooking demonstration with a difference – two of its robots, Rosie and James, were programmed to place uncooked Bavarian sausages in boiling water, remove them when cooked and put them into French baguettes before serving them to a panel of hungry scientists. They did so by way of a Robot Operating System, enabling them to move around using omnidirectional mobile bases with laser scanners and Kinect 3D sensors to detect objects.

The applications for these robots are vast. Why stop at sausages? How long before they are assembling your happy meal adorned in the McDonalds uniform, or brewing your morning latte in Starbucks?

How long until you glance across your desk and your colleagues are all called Rosie and James? How long before they are writing blogs?

If Tomorrow’s World has taught us anything, it’s that it is futile to speculate.