"Some are even embedded into other form factors such as automobiles so they are essentially transparent." He points to the robotics used to power self-park features in newer cars as an example.
As robots themselves evolve, so do their controllers. Tobe predicts that tablets, smartphones and other handhelds will become a common mechanism for training and manipulating robots.
He also believes that although nowadays robotics technology is incredibly proprietary, it will soon open up. "As the marketplace broadens, robotic operating systems will become more open source and more capable," Tobe says.
Sensors and sensibility
In the past, the field of robotics was constrained by a pre-conceived notion of a specific form factor and function. Dictionary.com defines robotics as "any machine or mechanical device that operates automatically with humanlike skill."
In reality, robots are created to surpass humans in their abilities. Advanced robots have sensors, intelligence and can act with autonomy. For instance, Swoop Technology is developing embedded robotics to automatically keep vehicles, such as buses, within their lanes.
Carnegie Mellon University is studying the use of robots in tree and plant nurseries to automatically move containers around based on their optimal environments.
Robots also are being tapped to improve medicine and, more specifically, surgeries. Peter Allen, professor of computer science at Columbia University in New York, is developing robotics to improve minimally invasive surgeries. The miniaturization of essential components such as cameras and motors, sophistication of the software, and decrease in price make robotics attractive for single-port surgeries.
"You're soon going to see a whole class of small, disposable, inexpensive systems that will do simple surgeries such as gall bladder and kidney removal, and hysterectomies," Allen says. "The main impact will be fewer incisions and, therefore, less overall trauma to the patient." The camera-laden robots also increase visibility within the surgical area.
Already Allen has licensed a robotic device he co-created with a physician that, according to Columbia University, "pans, tilts, and zooms to generate 2-D or 3-D images, and tracks surgical instruments automatically."