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What does a future with robots look like?

The course educators outline their vision for a future with robots.
Autonomous driving is bound to come. So what we need to do is we need to make sure that there is a firm understanding of risk, decisions are made based on the most available and current information as best as possible, so that autonomous vehicles can fit in reliably into the roads of today. One of the big areas where there’s going to be major breakthroughs as well, I think, is in robot surgery and robots in medicine. And so many good ones have been developed. My favourite is the exoskeleton. And that’s all robotics technology, but you wear it like a suit.
So you put it on your legs - instead of a wheelchair - so it supports you standing upright, it reads neural signals from your thighs, and you just walk. You don’t have to be trained. You just can walk. And if you wear the upper part, it makes you super strong. So not just for the elderly, but for carers. Instead of putting somebody on a hoist, or having some robot lift you, they can lift the person themselves and make good eye contact, and hold them. St George’s Hospital in Scotland is a roboticized hospital in every way. They have tunnels underneath, so all the laundry is done by robots.
I can see in the future, and there’s been some research on it, putting one of these small surgeon things on ambulances. So you’ve got a pileup on the motorway - and most people die coming back to the hospital, that’s where you die - or some sort of rescues, emergencies, storms or anything like that. So you send these little surgeons out. And one doctor with the help of assistants on the ground could do temporary operations on a number of people, make them secure to bring them back to hospital. There has been an operation already between Buenos Aires and Paris. So a surgeon in Paris was operating on someone in Buenos Aires.
There’s lots of places in the world that don’t have the possibility of having a surgeon. It became quite evident in my training that robotic surgery was going to be the future of surgery. And it’s gone from strength to strength, and it will continue to improve as the years go by. I think open surgery - it won’t become obsolete - but I think it will be done less and less. They’re trying to design a robot that you actually put inside the abdomen of the patient, so there will only be one tiny incision. The robot’s inside the abdomen, and does the operation. We talk about delivering individual parcels, but what about autonomous cargo planes?
So full-sized aircraft effectively flying around hundreds of tonnes of freight that don’t need pilots up front. If you know that there’s a boat lost in a particular area, you may be able to send out 50 drones, which can cover the area much quicker than one manned aircraft or even one man with his drone. And the interesting thing about that is you’re not always necessarily bothered about getting all of those drones back. If you can save 10 people’s lives, it doesn’t matter if you lose two or three drones in the process. One way that robots are really going to help us, vitally, is in saving our planet. That’s a great use for them, and really in the service of humanity.
And they’re already doing a lot of work for us that people don’t really know about. We have autonomous submarines, for instance, going under the ice caps, measuring exactly what the melting flow is. We have a lot of robots in the ocean now, under the sea and in harbours in the United States - like little fish robots, lobster robots - taking out all the chemicals, measuring constantly what the chemical composition is. There’s even a group in Scotland, a research group, that have made robots that repair coral reefs. They actually go down and repair the coral reef. So those things are really essential.
Robots are going to be useful in educational settings helping teachers, particularly giving one-on-one attention to children, scaffolding their learning of things like reading, writing, and arithmetic. Robots could be sent out to inspect places where humans cannot go because the places are just too small, inaccessible like a pipe network where water, oil, or gas is travelling through. In the very long term, you could even think about robots going much smaller, and they may even enter your very own body. So think about all the blood vessels. This is a network of about 100,000 kilometres, the vascular network, and most of this is currently inaccessible to any technology.
So if the robots would become very small and simple, and scaled down in size, they could potentially provide the next generation of diagnosis and treatment. We can help severely paralysed people to gain some sort of independence. So they can use this technology to control their environments. They can have a type of assistive robot that is controlled by their brain signals. Just imagine those who are paralysed from below the neck, so they don’t have any muscle movements, but they can use their brain signals to control a robotic hand for example. It’s one of the areas that I am working in. The fact is the applications are limitless.
We’re in such an early stage of this research, and that research could take you anywhere. It could take you to playing computer games, like we’re doing, it could control wheelchairs in the future. It’s literally limitless, the applications. We’re only dipping our toe, really, and playing about, compared to what it actually could be applied to in real life.

Let’s have one final recap of the vision that each of our educators has for a future with robots – bringing together some clips you will have seen before but some that will be new to you.

Has learning about the current research and development and where it’s potentially going given you some insight into why flying cars, Robocops and Iron Men don’t exist yet?


Are developments in robotics more challenging than you realised?
What area of research would you prioritise?
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Building a Future with Robots

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