The robots are having a block party

Molly Wood Apr 11, 2012

Just in case you thought this was any old Wednesday, allow me to set you straight: this is Robot Block Party day with parties going on in various cities around the country. It’s all part of National Robotics Week, a weeklong series of events in all 50 states put on by major universities and private businesses. The goal? Pretty much to show off how neat robots are.

As for what kind of robots you may expect to see at one of these block parties, “We’ve got over 4,500 robots in service in Iraq and Afghanistan,” says Colin Angle, the CEO and co-founder of iRobot. “And so some of the robots might be some of the bomb disposal robots, or robots that can serve as surrogates for yourself, so if you wanted to visit museum or visit the hospital or a loved one without traveling there. You could log into a robot using an iPad or your laptop computer, control it and actually drive it around in remote locations, so a wide breadth of different types of machines.”

But the block party and all Robotics Week activities aren’t just for fun. They’re for recruiting the next generation of roboticists.

“At the very lowest level, robotics is one of the things that gets kids so excited not just about robots, but about science and math and engineering,” says Chuck Thorpe of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. “At the next level, we’ve had so much success with robots, of course, robots fighting wars, robots in security applications, but also you’ve seen more and more robot vacuum cleaners, and robots doing more and more useful things in surgery. We can’t just stop there. We need to keep developing robots.”

Thorpe is also a professor at Carnegie Mellon University but he’s on loan to the White House’s technology efforts. It’s not every day I get to talk to a roboticist who works for the federal government. I asked him about any secret frightening robots the government was working on. He said there weren’t any secret robots (which is what the government would say) but did say, “The government is certainly working on security robots. The most dangerous job in combat is the scout because the scout is going out to unmapped places. If we had robot scouts going out to unmapped places, well if the robot comes back and tells you what’s out there, good. If the robot doesn’t come back, then you have some sense of what’s probably out there without having put a person in harm’s way.”

Also in this program, a new app says it can guide you to the dreams you want to have. Not talking about your hopes and ambitions here, I mean the actual weird movies that you see when you’re asleep. Want to have a dream where you fly? Or relax on a beach? The Dream: On app claims to be able to get you there. 

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