Science Robotics Expert Robin Murphy Answers Just How Close we are to Star Wars-Like Robots
Investigating the feasibility of Star Wars robot technology in modern applications, Robin Murphy of Texas A&M University published her study’s findings in Science Robotics.
Among Murphy’s conclusions were that several of the robot activities, including production and interpretation of computer-based speech and at least the simpler robot locomotions were quite feasible given the state of technology today.
At the center of several disagreements over the realism of some of the robotic capabilities were the ball-based movement abilities of the rolling robot, BB-8.
The rolling ball system used by BB-8 was found simply unfeasible, Murphy concluded. She pointed out that attempts to duplicate the locomotion system as it was portrayed in the movie produced the worst results.
Noting the tests performed by Georgia Tech biomechanics expert Dan Goldman, during which he attempted to roll a toy version of BB-8 through sand that was captured on video as a complete failure.
Other Star Wars examples that included the humanoid droid C3P0 and the rolling R2D2 dome shaped robot had similar issues. NASA has been testing Robonaut, a human-like assistant in their space station for 7 years, reporting very disappointing results.
The state of current technology has led to some other interesting locomotion designs for present day robots.
Modern robotic technology received media recognition for their abilities to work alongside humans during October, 2017. “Snakebots” were used in Mexico City to navigate through the collapsed building rubble in search of survivors of the September earthquake a few days earlier.
In an interview given to Science Magazine, the designer of the snakebots, Howie Choset of Carnegie Mellon University, described the bots as being approximately 2 inches thick, 3 feet long and having 16 joints that create movement patterns similar to more familiar side-winders.
Choset’s snakebots have been used in archaeological projects in Egypt and to navigate inside of nuclear power plants.
Their design allows the snakebots to maneuver through tight spots and to access locations in a non intrusive way that results in minimal interference with their surroundings.
So while Star Wars rolling ball droids and robots that look, walk and talk like humans may still be a world away, snakes are providing a robot movement model that is generating practical applications today.