Vol.2 – Major trends in 2016: Unprecedented Technological Convergence
- Robotics is not the only technology that is evolving exponentially.
The materials sciences, electronics, informatics, mathematics, biology, neuroscience, nanotechnology and other fields are all making rapid advances. Multidisciplinary in essence, robotics draws upon these advances and integrates them into new forms of robotics, thus speeding up its own innovation and deployment in applications on various markets. These associated fields are known as “enabling technologies”. The characteristic feature of the robot is above all its capacity to act autonomously or semi-autonomously on the physical world. However, before acting and interacting in the physical world, it calls upon a number of associated technologies, which are most often “invisible” but fully integrated in the heart of the robot.
- Soft robotics
Combining progress in materials science with robotics has given rise to a new field of scientific research and innovations called soft robotics. “Mechanical” properties such as elasticity, density, thickness, and viscosity come together to create novel supple materials. This enables, for example, the creation of versatile robotic gripping actuators (pliers, hands, etc.) that, when used in industrial applications, provide robots with unprecedented flexibility. The robot can grasp objects of various sizes, shapes and textures depending on the need. The most impressive use of supple materials in robotics is certainly in the medical field. For example, one condition, cardiac arrhythmia, is often treated by implanting a pacemaker, a battery-operated device, in the patient. Soft robotics has enabled the development of a new essentially mechanical method that, as a result, reduces risk and is better adapted to each patient. A “soft net” surrounds the heart and contracts it in phase with the patient’s natural cardiac movement. For more information, see http://biodesign.seas.harvard.edu/soft-robotics.
- Virtual reality and augmented reality
The robotics field quickly began using the Kinect as an affordable 3D vision sensor and today it is capitalizing on advances in virtual reality and voice recognition to offer more intuitive interfaces for both industrial and service robotics. Thus, for example, workers at Airbus can use augmented reality to visualize the technical plans of the aircraft they are in the process of building.
- Artificial intelligence and robotics
The convergence garnering the most attention is that of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI). Whether it is in the area of perception and the data collected by the robot, followed by the analysis of this knowledge using innovative Deep Learning, Predictive Analysis or even Machine Learning algorithms, in action planning via expert systems or in interaction via Natural Language Processing, AI is becoming an integral part of all aspects of our robots. Like robotics, AI is a General Purpose Technology (GPT). This combination has led to impressive breakthrough innovations in all fields, from autonomous vehicles and guide robots to security, surveillance and maintenance drones, among others.
To support the development of AI in France, the Minister of State for Industry, Digital Sector and Innovation and the Minister of State for Higher Education and Research launched the #FRANCE IA initiative on 20 January 2017. France Stratégie has just published a full report on AI in France. The French Senate has also been working with many experts on the subject and will present its conclusions in the near future.
- And in the future?
The next breakthrough will perhaps be in quantum computing. One Canadian company, Kindred, whose founders are former employees of DWave, a firm renowned for its quantum computing work, has incorporated AI in its exoskeletons. If we believe the Transhumanism movement, advances will also come from the convergence of biology, informatics, nanotechnology and robotics. It may also come simply from advanced technology watch on laboratory projects in the medical field.