The word “robot” originates from Slavic language as robota, which referred to forced labor among the peasantry. Since then, however, the term has moved away from humans and instead is used in reference of actual machinery. In 1920, Czech writer Karel Čapek presented a play, titled R.U.R., whereby the actual term “robot” was first applied as a means of describing machine-based labor.
Since then, robots have fascinated the minds of sci-fi writers and engineers alike. Which brings us to Cassie – the next generation of bipedal robots devised by Oregon State University’s Agility Robotics. Cassie originates from its predecessor ATRIAS. The problem that researchers kept stumbling over when developing ATRIAS was that it contained motors which worked against each other. As a result, this left the robot in being completely inefficient. Cassie, on the other hand, contains steering, feet, and a sealed system, allowing it be both agile and robust.
It was built “with a 16-month, $1 million grant from the Advanced Research Projects Agency of the U.S. Department of Defense,” according to OSU. Originally the research was being conducted by OSU, which then evolved into a brand new company known as Agility Robotics. After seeing monumental growth and success in the creation of Cassie, OSU has since announced that it will become a founding academic partner with the Advanced Robotics Manufacturing (ARM) Innovation Hub located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
According to Jonathan Hurst, who is the chief technology officer at Agility Robotics, “The robotics revolution will bring with it enormous changes, perhaps sooner than many people realize.” Within five to ten years, robots like Cassie will become the norm. They’ll be agile, robust, and extremely efficient. Near the ten year mark, expect to see bipedal robots operating within various different industries and services – from manufacturing to the fire department.
Although Boston Dynamics had surprised the world with its latest beautiful robot Handle, its quick locomotion is solely predicated on its legs being wheels. This might work extremely well in flat areas with little obstruction, like in factories, but when it comes to being used in areas where robots will need to move around obstruction, having actual legs will always outperform those which merely contain wheels. If someone is inside of a burning home, and the fire department doesn’t want to risk the lives of its crew in searching for that person, robots like Cassie will be sent in instead, given its agile mobility.
“Quite simply, robots with legs can go a lot of places that wheels cannot. This will be the key to deliveries that can be made 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, by a fleet of autonomous vans that pull up to your curb, and an onboard robot that delivers to your doorstep.”
– Oregon State University
Having the ability to move around like humans will certainly provide plenty of walking room for robots in the future. Thirty to fifty years from now, robots won’t just be serviceable laborers for us humans; they’ll become fully autonomous, intelligent beings that will walk, talk, and even live like the rest of us. They’ll be our guardians, our friends, and to some, even our lovers.
Though, in order for us to keep pace with our fellow robotic citizenry, there’ll be a large base of the human population that will opt for transformations of their own biological substrate. They’ll replace their limbs for robotic ones. They’ll embed implants throughout their body, including their brain, in order to connect them with online systems. Everything about the human body will be inspired by robots.
Which isn’t to say that humans will become robots, or that robots will become humans. Rather, just as apes and humans no longer resemble their common ancestor, this technological evolution of humans and robots will bring about a new species that is unlike anything we’ve ever seen.