ROBOTRONIKA - hypermatic:automagic
19 - 23 June 1998 Museumsquartier, Vienna/Austria

Prof. Hans Moravec, Carnegie Mellon University, Robotics Institute, USA

"Many Robots Soon"

Freely-roaming robots to fetch, clean and do other work have been an elusive fantasy for decades. Finally, in the 1990s, robots that understand their surroundings are beginning to prowl ordinary hallways and offices of research buildings, guided by programs using ever smaller, cheaper and more powerful computers and sensors. It will soon be possible to produce mobile robots that can do useful work in unfamiliar industrial settings. Subsequently, smaller, cheaper and better machines will begin to work in our homes. The author proposes a research and business plan that, in about two years, would result in a "navigation head" able to guide factory vehicles in unfamiliar territory using a three-dimensional sense of the surroundings. By 2005, improvements might permit the first mass-market home utility robots, from specialised machines like fully automatic vacuum cleaners, to more capable ones able to manipulate objects as well as travel. Perhaps by 2010, these machines will evolve into "universal" robots that can be programmed for almost any task. The talk speculates on the subsequent capabilities of universal robots, paralleling evolution of biological intelligence, from lizard-like in 2010, to mouse-like in 2020 to monkey-like in 2030 to human-like in 2040.

Hans Moravec is a Principal Research Scientist in the Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University. He has been thinking about machines thinking since he was a child in the 1950s, building his first robot, a construct of tin cans, batteries, lights and a motor, at age ten. In high school he won two science fair prizes for a light-following electronic turtle and a tape-controlled robot hand. As an undergraduate he designed a computer to control fancier robots, and experimented with learning and automatic programming on commercial machines. During his master's work he built a small robot with whiskers and photoelectric eyes controlled by a minicomputer, and wrote a thesis on a computer language for artificial intelligence. He received a PhD from Stanford in 1980 for a TV-equipped robot, remote controlled by a large computer, that negotiated cluttered obstacle courses. Since 1980 he has been director of the Carnegie Mellon University Mobile Robot Laboratory, birthplace of mobile robots deriving 3D spatial awareness from cameras, sonars, and other sensors. His 1988 book, Mind Children: the future of robot and human intelligence, and a forthcoming book, consider the future prospects for humans, robots and intelligence. He has published many papers in robotics, computer graphics, multiprocessors, space travel and other speculative areas.