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Posted by / 03-Feb-2020 13:48

Dirty chat robots

In psychology (the science of human behavior) and in robotics, these things are called perception (sensing), cognition (thinking), and action (moving). For example, robot welding arms in factories are mostly about action (though they may have sensors), while robot vacuum cleaners are mostly about perception and action and have no cognition to speak of.

As we'll see in a moment, there's been a long and lively debate over whether robots really need cognition, but most engineers would agree that a machine needs both perception and action to qualify as a robot.

Drivers see with their eyes; self-driving cars see with their sensors.

A driver's brain builds a moving 3D model of the road; self-driving cars have computers, surfing a flood of digital data quite unlike a human's mental model. It's quite easy to imagine a neural network (a computer simulation of interconnected brain cells that can be trained to recognize patterns) processing information from a self-driving car's sensors so the vehicle can recognize situations like driving behind a learner, spotting a looming emergency when children are playing ball by the side of the road, and other danger signs that experienced drivers recognize automatically.

Very likely a humanoid—a humanlike robot with arms, legs, and a head, probably painted metallic silver.Or you could forget all about something so involved as seeing and simply use a giant, pressure-sensitive bumper. Perception, in other words, doesn't have to mean vision.Let the robot scrabble around until the bumper hits something, then apply the brakes and tell it to creep away in a different direction. Spot, a quadruped robot built by Boston Dynamics, has a lidar (a kind of laser radar) where you'd expect its head to be (the small gray box at the front). And that's a very important lesson for ambitious projects such as self-driving (robotic) cars.Where the sci-fi robots we see in movies and TV shows tend to be humanoids, the humdrum robots working away in the world around us (things like robotic welder arms in car-assembly plants) are much more functional, much less entertaining.For some reason, sci-fi writers have an obsession with robots that are little more than flawed, tin-can, replacement humans.

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But you could also build a self-driving car an entirely different way without anyone in the driving seat—and this is how most robotics engineers have approached the problem.

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