The Next Generation Of Robots

CSO at imec, a world-leading R&D and innovation hub active in the fields of nanoelectronics and digital technologies.

Robot man mowing grass with lawnmower

Do We Need To Make Robots More Responsive? 

Robotics is at a crossroads. Are developers going to design “humanoids” that can barely be distinguished from real people? Or is shape a cosmetic consideration, and should we concentrate instead on creating increasingly multifunctional robots that allow us to become more human ourselves?

I believe the latter option is the better one, but it’s not straightforward. It means robots will have to become much more versatile: Instead of mastering a limited set of repetitive tasks only, they should be capable of interacting intelligently with the world and the people around them. To do so in a natural way, robots will need to possess human-like senses, allowing them to see, hear, smell, taste and feel. Ideally, they might even need to be equipped with a sixth sense: some sort of “artificial intuition.”

The road to getting there is challenging, but nature itself and thousands of years of human evolution can inspire us.

The Primary Challenge: Replicating The Human Skin

In the past few years, we have made significant progress in equipping robots with powerful visual and auditory systems. But providing them with a sense of touch — and giving them a “feel” for any human activity in their vicinity — is yet another challenge. Touch is going to be an important part of that, for reasons including safety, extra functionality and flexibility. Without it, you can program a robot to pick up something cube-shaped, but it can’t work out how to pick up a pyramid. Only through touch will it be able to manipulate a variety of objects.