One of the key topics at the new-look CEBIT, due to be rolled out in June 2018, is humanoid robots. After Walt Disney's prototype Gyro Gearloose first hit the screen around 60 years ago, it was C-3PO in Star Wars who firmly established the species in our collective imagination in the late 1970s. If it seems to have taken a very long time to bring anything anywhere near to C-3PO to life, this lies in the immense complexity of the task. After all, even we humans didn’t learn to walk upright overnight. One of the most sophisticated humanoid robots is surely the ARMAR-6 created by the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). This sixth generation of the ARMAR family of robots is now so advanced that one recently landed a "job" as a service technician in the automated warehouse run by the online shop Ocado in the UK. The robot's career prospects were undoubtedly boosted by the seven million dollars the EU pumped into the "SecondHands" project. The primary aim - to research the scope for freeing up real humans’ time for more leisurely pursuits by automating new fields of work - might well raise some eyebrows.
However, KIT professor Tamim Asfour, who has been working on humanoid robots for around 20 years, assures us that ARMAR-6 and his successors are intended to act as "assistants" rather than "“replacements". He explains that "The newest member of the ARMAR family, ARMAR-6, finely integrates mechatronics, IT and AI. As part of the EU project, ARMAR-6 is learning exactly how to grasp tools to perform specific tasks, or to hand them to a technician." Ultimately, ARMAR-6 should be able to spot when a technician needs assistance and offer to help if it can. You can bet your bottom dollar it won’t be long before it can do this with ease - and perhaps even more?
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (76131 Karlsruhe, Germany)