Critical Issues for Robotic Application

The technology of the 21st century promises to bring the computing power and efficiency of laptops and handheld mobile devices to new heights. But one feature that remains critical to delivering these powerful gadgets to their intended usefulness is their battery power. Batteries for mobile computing devices remain a sore issue that unless satisfactorily addressed, will just limit the increasing power of portable devices to just a few minutes of use.

Powering them Up

In robotics, the same issue needs to be addressed if robots are to be deployed anywhere or given unlimited mobility. While this will not be a problem on stationary robotic application in manufacturing plants, it gets critical consideration powering mobile robots, whether they move on motorized wheels on human-like leg contraptions. Current progress in hybrid automobiles seems like the best solution for robots on wheels with just one caveat – size.

Movie robot characters like Pixar’s Wall-E. CPO and R2D2 in Spielberg’s Star Wars franchise are amazing enough in their functions but what these movies gloss over is how are they powered. We know that Wall-E is solar chargeable and that may signal another option to take for simple robots. Large mobile robots that can do more complex tasks will require a more reliable powering solution under any weather. Nuclear fusion (as opposed to fission used in making nuclear warheads) holds another promise here but that’s one technology that has been put on hold pending newer and safer forms of energy sources.

A good solution would be to use separate independent power sources for each major robotic function, such as for mobility, cognition, computing, telecommunications and database functions. Thus, losing mobility power will not compromise other functions and might even benefit from cross-powering from its other power sources, and vice versa for other robotic functions.

Miniaturization

We all know the vast computing power of PCs and laptops but are they small enough to fit inside a cube or sphere no bigger than a human skull? If cellphones and gaming consoles are any indication, perhaps they can. Nanotechnology promises to bring miniaturization to the next level of bio-molecular sizes that can multiply tenfold the current computational prowess of processors and memory modules at a fraction of their current footprint.

Enabling robotic applications to exercise any form of thinking autonomy will require massive inferential databases that can store data for them to learn and make decisions and actions without human intervention. More than anything else, this is what distinguishes robots from computers – autonomic thought and action. And you can not do that with the current spinning platters in hard drives. This technology is old, unreliable (vulnerable to motion-induced crashes) and inadequate. While piling up 2 TB hard disk might so the job, it’s still slow and bulky.

Enter the solid state hard drive. It’s amazing that computer companies preferred to concentrate all their time and energies increasing the capacities and seek times of traditional hard drives when they could have done so with solid state storage devices that remain an expensive alternative at this time. Your 6 GB flash drive uses solid state storage technology that happily has gone down in price per GB over the last 2 months. GP

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