Robots grow out of toy age


Since time immemorial, mankind has dreamed of man-made helpers who would work in its place; the well-known principle “laziness is the engine of progress” is especially relevant here. Time passed, the possibilities of people increased. We have already talked about artificial intelligence - in the hope of loading robots not only with physical, but also with mental work. How far has the cart moved in these directions? What capabilities do commercial robot models have? And at the same time, how did this post end up on Intel's blog? Let's try to answer all the questions.

Present day
So what have robots achieved to date? Since this category of devices is very diverse in terms of characteristics and applications, it is easiest to answer this question by giving examples of the most successful and successful developments.


No, this is not a train, but quite a working Arduino.
In the segment of mobile robotic devices, the Arduino platform has become widely known in recent years , combining a central controller and a harness for interfacing with peripherals - sensors, engines, etc. habrospetsialisty also paid her enough attention (here is the latest post on this topic) A variety of moving vehicles are being designed at Arduino: driving, flying and floating; a lot of things are still not moving, but for us it is not so interesting right now. The development environment allows you to program the behavior of the device and configure the interaction of its components. Arduino attracts thousands of fans primarily because it is a constructor not only in hardware but also in software: the existing modules and libraries greatly simplify the work with it.


A flock of robotic vacuum cleaners led by a leader

You will probably laugh, but it is the robot vacuum cleaner that is now the most commercially successful robotic device in the world. And if, without laughing, to think, then there is nothing surprising in this, because a vacuum cleaner is really a really necessary thing among the rest of the semi- and entirely toys. The mental abilities of devices such as iRobot are not particularly great - sometimes they are not enough even to perform vacuuming functions directly. Let's say vacuum cleaners can easily get lost among furniture legs; that is, they have enough mind to climb, but to get out is no longer there. So there is plenty of room for evolution.


Another flock. Or a pack. Although, rather, a choir, because they sing.

Sony AIBO represents perhaps the most popular home robot project. Despite the fact that AIBO dogs are no longer available, they are still in demand; it is also certain that they influenced the entire robotic toy industry. AIBO pluses - a huge number of sensors in total (which, however, did not stop the dog from falling off the table), sophisticated development algorithms with branches (as in a good strategy game), well, and general nanniness, of course. In terms of imitation of reality, Sony engineers have surpassed themselves, especially considering that the development was carried out at the end of the last century. However, the project was closed, which definitely symbolizes.

Prospects
Studying the participants of our charts and their related models, we can draw conclusions about the situation in the industry as a whole. First of all, it is striking that most "home robots" are nothing more than toys, and toys for geeks. This in itself is not scary, but it greatly limits both the requirements for the product and the development budget. Of course, robotic helicopters must exist, and in large numbers, because fun. And vacuum cleaners, too, as needed. But to call robots is still a somewhat different kind of device. Those that bring real benefits, whose artificial “mind” is aimed at self-programming, creation, and not at imitation. What problems are encountered in the development of such robots?


OpenROV - open source submarine

The history of AIBO has shown the commercial vulnerability of serious robot projects, but this problem is not as great as it might seem at first. Creating a development team under the auspices of Open Source could be a good option for software development. What to do with the platform? There really are difficulties here. It is clear that from the Arduino controller with an operating frequency of up to 20 MHz it is impossible to expect a miscalculation of complex adaptive reactions and active branching of the behavior algorithm. The 700 MHz RISC AIBO processor allowed a fairly plausible simulation of development and responsiveness to events. But the question here is not only in megahertz and gigabytes. A serious project should provide a high-quality development environment and the ability to write programs in high-level languages, without which it is impossible to program the system as a whole.
What did we get? Instead of a microcircuit with a motor, we have a computer with legs. Well, or without legs, how come. The main thing is that the computer has a standard architecture, a standard software platform and is programmed with standard development tools. Instead of the task of piloting an exotic pepelats, we reduced everything to a routine programmer's work - let no one be offended by the word "routine".
The small thing is to create a robot of standard architecture and equip it with mind rabbits. As you know, such robots already exist, otherwise it would not make sense to write this article. And they are built - SURPRISE! - on the Intel platform.

Q.bo, NAO and so on
Our first hero - green man on wheels called Q.bo . From a computer point of view, this is a PC with a mini-ITX motherboard, an Intel Atom or Core i3 processor and everything else. The same Arduino-compatible controllers are in charge of pairing with motor and sensors. It is controlled by Q.bo operating system OpenQbo (a Linux Ubuntu clone with an integrated software package for the system). By the way, this same package as a separate ROS product has been ported to a number of OSs; they say that it even works on Windows.



What success Q.bo will achieve - it’s not yet possible to say, its sales will begin only in September, the cost is from £ 800. However, it can definitely be argued that Q.bo, while remaining a toy, will become fun after all to a new level. This is not a black box, like AIBO, but an intellect whose capabilities you are laying and training yourself. A powerful hardware platform allows you to lay sophisticated and believable responses to reality. We add here various buns inherited by Q.bo from the PC world: a simple software update mechanism, the ability to repair and upgrade, drivers for all kinds of peripherals and adapters, etc.
And here is the NAO robot , the development of Aldebaran Robotics, for all its frivolous appearance, you can’t call a toy; It is intended primarily for scientific and medical purposes. Like Q.bo, it is controlled by the Linux OS, the implementation of specific functions is assigned to the NAOqi software package. The hardware is headed by two Intel Atom processors, there is a rich set of sensors and motors.


Two people and NAO. Middle robot

Despite its high cost (about $ 15,000), NAO is already used in many foreign educational institutions: it helps to study mathematics, programming, and engineering disciplines. With the help of NAO, researchers study the features of recognition of objects and voice, the movement of the human body. Finally, pilot social programs of a robotic future are being tested at the NAO: robots are learning to help the elderly, children with mental disorders such as autism and so on.
What can be said in conclusion? It's probably stupid to argue if robots are needed in our lives. They are now everywhere: any modern device, from the refrigerator to the car, is equipped to one degree or another with intelligent functions. Obviously, the overall intelligence of devices will only continue to grow. Perhaps the robot does not need legs, and you can talk, say, with the TV. However, elements of artificial intelligence are still difficult to develop, and you need to deal with them with all your might and the whole world. The point is small - choose a robot to your liking and go, creative! A robot with Intel inside, of course.