Semantic robots

Will we start to see robots in our classrooms and university research labs within a decade or so? According to one of the sessions at ICT 2008 we are starting to see robotic applications move beyond their traditional use in high end automobile manufacturing (remember the Picasso car advert?). There is a push to put robots like this into smaller companies and also a lot of work going on for applications in service industries such as cleaning. There is also considered to be considerable potential in healthcare, even for the care of the elderly in their own homes.

Again, though, the question was raised as to whether Europe could compete. The Japanese and Koreans are strong on robotic development and the USA is ploughing $10 million per annum (on top of various defence-related projects that are kept secret). The three Framework 7 (FP7) calls for research proposals in this area will help and there is a strong commitment to integrate robotic work with that of the semantic Web to deliver knowledge-based robotics. These are the types of robots that may end up in the classroom.

Some of the research questions being posed though may remind older readers of the work of science fiction writer Isaac Asimov. These include:

  • How autonomous and proactive should a robot be allowed to be?
  • How can robots recognise and deal with critical situations and safety problems?
  • What level of cognitive skills should be built in?

These are fascinating questions and it may not be too long before researchers (and the general public) has to have a serious debate about these issues. If you are interested in further details then have a look at: