How far are we from sending robots into the world in our stead?
BY Anne-Marie Corley // September 2009
23 September 2009—Imagine a world where you’re stronger, younger, better looking, and don’t age. Well, you do, but your robot surrogate—which you control with your mind from a recliner at home while it does your bidding in the world—doesn’t.
It’s a bit like The Matrix, but instead of a computer-generated avatar in a graphics-based illusion, in Surrogates—which opens Friday and stars Bruce Willis—you have a real titanium-and-fluid copy impersonating your flesh and blood and running around under your mental control. Other recent films have used similar concepts to ponder issues like outsourced virtual labor (Sleep Dealer) and incarceration (Gamer).
The real technology behind such fantastical fiction is grounded both in far-out research and practical robotics. So how far away is a world of mind-controlled personal automatons?
„We’re getting there, but it will be quite a while before we have anything that looks like Bruce Willis,“ says Trevor Blackwell, the founder and CEO of Anybots, a robotics company in Mountain View, Calif., that builds „telepresence“ robots controlled remotely like the ones in Surrogates.
Telepresence is action at a distance, or the projection of presence where you physically aren’t. Technically, phoning in to your weekly staff meeting is a form of telepresence. So is joysticking a robot up to a suspected IED in Iraq so a soldier can investigate the scene while sitting in the (relative) safety of an armored vehicle.