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Robots: The future is here today

March 18, 2017
By Joyce Schenk , Westfield Republican

Remember when the cartoon series, The Jetsons, took us along on its weekly animated visit to the space-age home of tomorrow? All those push-button conveniences looked too good to be true.

Well, today, many of those push-button cooking, cleaning and entertaining devices have become a part of our everyday lives.

Since we've made the leap to such things as microwaves and big-screen, remote-controlled TVs, we may be on the brink of another Jetson-like upgrade. One day soon, every family might just welcome an aproned robotic maid, like the one serving the Jetson's space-age family.

With advancements in robotics moving ahead at warp speed, it looks like the sky is virtually the limit for such enhancements to daily life.

It was only a few years ago that we were introduced to a robotic version of the family dog. Although not exactly cuddly, this silver pseudo-pet could bark, turn back-flips and otherwise entertain his owner. In addition, he required neither feeding or clean-up. It only took a good supply of batteries to keep him at his best.

In addition to entries into the toy world, the robotics industry is hard at work on a wide variety of robots to enhance family life.

Two of today's most useful automated devices are the robotic floor vacuum and a mower with "run itself" capabilities.

Another ambitious and unexpected area for the use of robotics is in the field of medicine.

Carnegie-Mellon University has been testing a prototype robot they have named Pearl. Developers hope that one day the robot will be able to help people in assisted living situations.

Among Pearl's many capabilities is verbal communication through a screen. With this asset, "she" is able to escort people to certain locations in a facility such as the dining room. In addition, Pearl can remind patients to take their medicine.

Another more advanced robot, the RP-6 Remote Presence System, is currently in use in a number of assisted living facilities and over 60 hospitals.

This advancement allows doctors, and other health care professionals, to project themselves anywhere at any time in order to interact with patients. Complete with both a screen and a camera, the robot allows doctors to be in two places at once. In addition, the physician can observe the patient, ask questions and make treatment decisions.

I'm trying to be forward-looking enough to see the advantage of robotic maids and automated vacuums. But, at this point, I'm not ready to be treated by a robotic doctor.

There are many areas in life where robotics can be a great boon. But, in the field of health care, give me a real, living, breathing person ... white coat optional.

And, I'm just hoping the industry will stop before they try to craft a robotic replacement for mothers ... or columnists.



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