DailyDirt: Robots Mimicking Humans…

from the urls-we-dig-up dept

Everyone universally hated ‘Clippy’ when it popped up and tried to be helpful. So imagine the hate that could arise if a humanoid robot wondered around and tried to be helpful all the time. Thankfully, the field of robotics is not quite up to letting such a machine loose on the general population, but plenty of researchers are working on how to improve human-bot relations. C3PO has some early ancestors in a few of the following links.

By the way, StumbleUpon can recommend some good Techdirt articles, too.

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Comments on “DailyDirt: Robots Mimicking Humans…”

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Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Dumb Robots.

Well, I think the future is in large numbers of dumb, but cheap, robots.

Let me give you an example. America’s railroads use about a million freight cars, half owned by the railroads, and half owned by the shippers. These freight cars, typically costing about $100,000 each, have RFID tags, allowing them to be identified and counted by trackside sensors, but most of the cars haven’t any more electronics than that. They have a crude pneumonic-mechanical braking system, which uses the same air pipe for control and power, so there are certain condition under which the brakes cannot be applied. This sometimes leads to runaway accidents, in which the train, under the influence of gravity on a one-percent grade, accelerates to seventy miles an hour before hitting something or derailing. There are various levers, faucet valves, and hand-cranks on each car, which have to be set by hand, not to mention hooking up the air hoses between cars to enable the braking system.

Under the circumstances it is quite common for small rail shipments, of _only_ a hundred or two hundred tons, to move at five or six miles an hour, net speed from shipper to recipient, over a distance of, say, a thousand miles. The cars spend most of their time sitting in railroad yards, waiting for someone to come and manually work their levers. If you want your goods delivered at a net speed of thirty miles an hour or more, you have to make up a shipment of several thousand tons, enough to charter a special train, a “unit train.” That’s fine for the electric power industry, getting its shipments of coal, and it works for the container shipping companies, who really want a kind of ship canal leading from the west coast to Chicago, but outside of those specialized sectors, and a few others, most people don’t find it practical to employ unit trains. They use trucks instead. If each railroad freight car were fitted with the equivalent of two or three garage-door openers, that would transform the railroad freight car, because it would no longer be necessary for train crews to walk for hundreds of yards along the length of the train, manually doing something to each car. It would be possible for the railroads to do a wide range of business which is now done by trucks.

The equipment in question is unbelievably dumb. Most people would not consider it a robot. But it works.

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