Building a robot has been one of humanity’s longest-standing dreams. Mechanical helper beings appear in the stories of ancient civilizations the world over, from Greece to China to Israel. On the flip side, the thought of robots running amok is one of our most enduring collective nightmares, a la Terminator and The Matrix. Living with robots in real life has been a completely different, far less dramatic story.
By Invention Factory|MOTHERBOARD
Most robots today—from the Roombas that vacuum our floors to those that assemble Tesla electric cars—go about their business without fuss or fanfare, and without much interaction with us ordinary humans. Things are about change though, as more consumer-focused companies from Google to Intel enter the robot race. GE’s new online video series Invention Factory explores what’s happening on the frontiers of robots research.
Before we get into that, it’s worth noting how far robots have already come in such a short time. Only in the past 50 years or so have robots gone from fantasy to practical reality, as big companies increasingly put purpose-specific robots to work assembling cars, solar panels, food, cooking appliances, and countless other products.
Most of these industrial bots are very expensive and usually confined to one spot on the factory floor, chugging away all day at tasks that human laborers find repetitive and physically demanding. They’re also typically impersonal looking—just a big arm or set of automated tools. As a consequence, many of us who don’t work in heavy industry scarcely think about the robots that make our modern lives possible, not even the ones that make us pancakes.