The co-existence of mankind and robots gifted with "silicon souls” at home, at school, or at work is no longer science fiction, but happens in the present with the Hispano-Emirati Reem-B Humanoid, the Dutch Delfly dragonflies, and the Spanish astronaut Topolino.
Their creators spoke with Efe at the Science Museum of the La Caixa Foundation in Alcobendas (Madrid), which hosted the "Silicon Souls" conference to discuss their research and development (R&D), the degree of automation, and the materials of these intelligent machines.
Reem-B, the robot created in Barcelona, does not speak Catalan, but currently it can walk and pick up a can of soda, and what makes it “unique in Europe” is that its “battery lasts two hours," it is "able to lift 14 kilos,” and “it can create maps of its environment," David Faconti, of the company PAL Technology (www.pal-robotics.com), told Efe.
Weighing 60 kg and 1.6 meters tall, the robot - funded by a company based in Abu Dhabi - can recognize faces, moves with an ease “comparable to the Japanese state of the art" in robotics, and, most interesting, it is capable of carrying 14 kilos with ergonomically-articulated arms.
Reem-B, which resembles the famous R2D2 and C3PO from the movie "Star Wars," still cannot help with domestic chores but, said the Italian Faconti, he hopes that a robot "son or grandson (of Reem-B)" will be able to act with a greater degree of autonomy, a key issue in robotics.
On another level, the Spanish-Emirati firm is investigating "less humanoid, cheaper robots," for what is known as the "mobile manipulation, that is to say a robot with wheels that develops risk tasks" “in pollutant discharges” or "deactivating bombs."
On the other hand, the Russian Vladimir Shirokov and the Belgians Bart Bruggeman and Bart Remes, researchers at the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft, in Dutch), demonstrated for Efe their Delfly II robotic dragonflies and the micro Delfly, whose design is based on nature and the work of inventors such as Leonardo Da Vinci.
This research began in 2005 with the first prototype ornithopter Delfly I, said Efe Bart Remes, and his academic goal is to “learn aerodynamics with all Delfly prototypes” (named after of "Delft," the university, and “fly,” hence the web address: www.delfly.nl).
For now, the three Delfly models have wings made of a transparent plastic and wire structure - Delfly I (2005), Delfly II (2006), and his latest invention, Delfly micro (2008) - which flies in enclosed areas because, as Remes commented, they are “very light and may have problems with wind."
The goal that has been set for this pioneering Dutch center is "the creation of robots (with the anatomical structure of dragonflies) that are very small and light, and that can go unnoticed and record videos," which would be ideal for espionage.
The optimization of the prototype’s weight is remarkable: from Delfly I’s 22 grams to 17 for Delfly II (with 15 minutes of flying time) and now Defly Micro weighs just 3 grams, and flies for 3 minutes carrying a minicamera which weighs less than 1 gram.
In the near future these robotic dragonflies will be directed by remote control - like remote-controlled toy cars - and are being upgraded to become "smaller and smaller" and "fly automatically in either direction,” that is to say, vertically and horizontally.
In contrast, the Spanish Topolino robot, which was designed by Javier Baliñas and Diego Salazar, two young students from the University of Alcalá de Henares (Madrid), to travel to Mars, has not yet been signed by NASA, which has two robots on the Red Planet: Spirit and Opportunity, Diego Salazar joked with Efe.
The appealing Topolino (which means “little mouse” in Italian and is Mickey Mouse’s name in that language) won the Best Concept Award in the "Mission to Mars" contest at the EUROBOT 2008 international robotics competition.
And what is the purpose of this robot? It is designed, said Salazar, "to take samples of Martian life, refrigerate them, and bring them back to Earth in good condition."