Re: ROBOT: Your Flexible Friend

From: Ross A. Finlayson (
Date: Fri Mar 16 2001 - 17:07:17 MST

J. R. Molloy wrote:

> >From The Economist print edition
> 0303&CFTOKEN=90909487
> IN THE film "Terminator 2" the villainous "liquid metal" P-1000
> assassin-bot was able to change shape so that it could ooze through narrow
> bars, or turn its extremities into blades. Mark Yim of Xerox's Palo Alto
> Research Centre (PARC) has more limited and benign ambitions. As he
> explained to the AAAS meeting, rather than building murderous psychotic
> androids, he is trying to create a robot for use in search and rescue
> operations, deep-sea mining and space exploration. But like the P-1000, Dr
> Yim's machine can change its outward form.
> The PARC Polybot is made of a dozen or so identical modules. When ordered
> to do so by its operator, it changes shape on the move by rebuilding
> itself out of these modules. According to the terrain, it can adopt one of
> three different arrangements. When crossing a level surface it becomes a
> looped tractor tread. For travelling down stairs or climbing over an
> obstacle it configures itself into a caterpillar. On rough ground it
> changes into a four-legged "spider".
> To achieve this trick, the segments talk to each other using infra-red
> transceivers. They can then locate one another, align themselves using
> small onboard motors, and lock and unlock from each other at will. The
> computing power needed to control all this is distributed among separate
> processors-one for each segment-although there is a control centre in one
> module, which is as close as the Polybot comes to having a brain.
> Besides versatility, Dr Yim hopes the general idea of reconfigurable
> modular robots will ultimately create cheap and durable devices. Their
> robustness would come from creating a system in which the failure of one
> or two modules would not matter. Savings in cost would arise from the
> system's modularity-that is, from having to manufacture only one sort of
> component in order to build a wide variety of different devices.
> Having proved the principle with a dozen modules, Dr Yim and his
> colleagues are working on a more ambitious version. This machine, which
> should be ready later this year, will have 200 modules. Eventually, it
> will also be able to control its own behaviour. Let us hope it does not
> develop any personality disorders.
> ---------------------------
> Stay hungry,
> --J. R.
> Useless hypotheses: consciousness, phlogiston, philosophy, vitalism, mind,
> free will

One time, I was talking to Moravec on IRC, and one thing that I said was that
I thought the future would see many flexible or task-specific robots like you
mention, where the commands would be from mobile software agents that were
delegated from semi-autonomous robot to semi-autonomous robot.

About the simulation concept, if we're in a simulation, we're all in it, as
were the dinosaurs millions of years ago, the simulation has been running
since the start of time, and it's better known as reality.

So, basically, gaining advantage is about reality.


Ross Andrew Finlayson
Finlayson Consulting
Ross at Tiki-Lounge:
"It's always one more."  - Internet multi-player computer game player

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