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Google: From Phone Android To Real-Life Android

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Brett Daniel Shehadey
Special Contributor for In Homeland Security

Google is purchasing robotics like crazy in the US and Japan. They have bought eight of them this last year alone. The most impressive acquisition so far is Boston Dynamics, which created the self-adjusting quadruped robots Big Dog and Cheetah and the ATLAS humanoid bipedal robot through DARPA.

Effectively, Google is now part of the DARPA [Humanoid] Robotics Challenge (DRC). The DRC has one more trial since 2012 to develop a humanoid rescue robot that can navigate difficult terrain, remove debris, drive a car and add an access point in hazardous areas required in certain disaster and relief missions. The call came largely in response of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster in Japan. With this technology, it is believed that a humanoid robot could have entered the reactor rooms, withstood the radiation levels and manually shut them down early on, avoiding the years of contamination and reported deaths that followed.

Here is the real clincher of the DRC on the software side—these will be semi-autonomous robots, with the goal of building capabilities to include task oriented commands, like, “open the door;” and without instructing each movement through tele-operations and manual remote controlled inputs.

Boston Dynamics has created some of the best robots in human history- breaking barriers to new fronts in robotic sciences. Cheetah is the fastest land robot, for example. ATLAS is a remarkable bipedal humanoid robot frame that can mimic the human body in motion, far superior to all other known attempts, including Honda’s prized Asimo.

It is not the first time Google has been involved with DARPA and robotics. Google first pioneered the driverless car in 2005-2007 in the DARPA Urban and Grand Challenge. There were other contenders but Google pioneered the technology of driverless vehicles at the right time. Now, only seven years later, this technology is being used commercially in cars for self-parking and eventually automatic navigation systems in various ground transports.

With the acquisition of Boston Dynamics, Google Inc. goes from making the “Android” operating systems to potentially rolling out real thing- android robots. While their mainstay has been pushing disruptive technologies, it may be that they will really dive into the robotics industry at some point. The fact that Google is getting involved now shows its eagerness to push humanoid robots and the timing for their rise in the short-term. For now, they are heavy on the research and development through Google’s branch called “Project X” that has a vision to bring cybernetics and robotics to the forefront of society. Yet all over the world, the time does ‘feel’ right for robots in defense or otherwise.

The dual-use technology application for robotics is prime time for a singularity moment. Still, even without one, it is expected that the next seven years of development of humanoid robots will be seen more in industry and society, as well as the battlefield and maybe even as early as 2020 in some capacity.

Another humanoid robot to watch is NASA Johnson Space Center’s Valkyrie (“Val” or R5). This is being designed for humanoid robot mission to mars. The technology is at its earliest incipient stages.

A very odd short online film directed by J.J. Palomo called Keloid is a highly visual attempt to demonstrate a potential feel for near-future humanoid robot technologies applied to ground troops. The dystopian film was all produced in CGI and is now getting attention from Hollywood. Like Iron Man and HALO, if Hollywood likes this particular vision, the DOD might soon find it of some value.

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