Colin Angle Chairman of the Board, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder, iRobot® Corp.
Our goal is to create practical, useful robots that help people live more independently, have simpler lives, have more help maintaining their homes, and then have robots take on many of the dull, dirty or dangerous tasks in our lives. So, absolutely, I think it's a great positive thing, and I think that as you think about our aging demographic, figuring out how to enable them to live independently longer, as opposed to centralizing in nursing homes, incredibly important as well.
In "Empire Strikes Back," one of those ubiquitous medical droids (it's a model 2-1B, for anyone who's interested) gave Luke Skywalker his mechanical hand. In "Star Trek: Voyager," the ship's crew received care from a smart-alecky hologram. The idea of the medical field employing robots or artificial intelligence has always seemed like science fiction, but recent strides in technology are turning it into reality. From surgical procedures to advances in prosthetics, robots are already changing how we approach medicine. In fact, a test of this theory showed that autistic children gave longer eye contact to the Pleo robot than to a human speaking through a monitor [source: INSAR]. Robots like Pleo may become a useful at-home therapy tool.
Literally on the cutting edge of medicine, devices like the da Vinci robot surgery system have the potential to perform new, minimally invasive surgical procedures. A surgeon remotely guides robotic arms using a monitor and joystick system. The robot translates the surgeon's movements into much smaller motions. This system may prove especially helpful in cases where distance poses a problem, essentially letting specialists telecommute to operating rooms around the world.
While bionic limbs and cochlear implants aren't exactly robots, they're definitely in the robot family. Applications of robotics include camera systems that can restore a basic level of sight to the blind or advanced prosthetic limbs, such as the Luke arm (you get one guess where its name comes from) designed by Segway inventor Dean Kamen. According to Kamen during an interview, this revolutionary sensor-driven arm works so precisely that it allowed its first tester -- a man with no arms from the shoulder down -- to eat a bowl of cereal without spilling a drop [source: Colbert]. The number of injured soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq has spurred American research and development of advanced prosthetics.
Watson, the supercomputer that famously crushed all the long-standing champions on "Jeopardy," gave up the celebrity life to go back to school. After its stint on TV, IBM took Watson to University of Maryland to test how well it can learn to assist doctors in developing diagnoses [source: UMMC]. Sure, we're not living in "Star Trek" yet, but some of the most fantastical technology of science fiction is coming within reach.
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