Mind / Iron
by Bryan Bergeron, Editor ;
Revenge of the (Robot) Nerds
In the world of commercial robotics, brawn seems to have it over brains. The huge mechanical arms that bend, bolt, and bond metal don’t have much in the way of computational capacity. Why supply a robot designed for dull, dirty, and often dangerous work with more than a smidgen of a
brain? The first reason that comes to mind is safety.
There are useful reflex loops programmed into robotic TIG welders in
some automobile assembly lines – including the ability to sense when contact
has been made with a soft, easily damaged human. These safety mechanisms
can be lifesaving.
Having worked with a desktop 3D printer for several months, I’ve come
to appreciate the computational overhead of slicing and dicing a 3D model in
such a way that it can be quickly rendered in 3D. Although this computation
is largely performed on a desktop before porting the rendering files over to
my 3D printer, the onboard processing is still magnitudes beyond the
computational abilities of the CNC router that it replaced.
For robotics to really blossom, there has to be more computational
intelligence available for navigation, sensing, human interaction, and self-repair. There’s a good chance there will be more of this intelligence available
in the next few years.
One reason for my optimism is the never-ending march of progress on
the microcontroller front. Compare the Raspberry PI to the popular Arduino,
introduced only a few years ago. The price/performance point for the Pi
simply blows away the Arduino — at least as far as raw computational ability
goes. Then, there’s the new Propeller chip and C compiler from Parallax which
creates some interesting synergies with parallel processing hardware and a
conventional programming language. There’s probably a 1 GHz Arduino on
the drawing board somewhere.
However, these are examples of evolutionary progress — the same sort of
progress that we’ve seen in robotics for the past few decades. What about
revolutionary, game-changing progress? When do we get even a glimpse of
the robotic intelligence portrayed by Data in Star Trek or David in
There’s a good chance we’ll see it before the decade is out, thanks in
part to projects such as the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing
Innovative Neurotechnologies) initiative. One goal of this initiative is to
develop new technologies that can record the activity of the brain at the level
of individual neurons.
In contrast, much of our current understanding of the way the brain
works is at a gross level, using tools such as functional magnetic resonance
imaging (fMRI) that can map oxygen consumption by different regions of the
Assuming the BRAIN initiative is funded, the AI and robotics communities
should have much more data to work with. I expect the research findings to
provide the basis for new algorithms and computational methods for
intelligent robotics. Eventually, robots will become known for their
computational prowess, and not simply as fancy R/C drones or replacements
for semi-skilled human labor. SV
6 SERVO 08.2013
Published Monthly By
T & L Publications, Inc.
430 Princeland Ct., Corona, CA 92879-1300
FAX (951) 371-3052
Webstore Only 1-800-783-4624
Toll Free 1-877-525-2539
Outside US 1-818-487-4545
P.O. Box 15277, N. Hollywood, CA 91615
VP OF SALES/MARKETING
Jeff Eckert Jenn Eckert
Tom Carroll Kevin Berry
Dennis Clark R. Steven Rainwater
Michael Simpson Gordon McComb
Bryce Woolley Evan Woolley
Fred Eady Morgan Berry
Alan Downing Matthew Downing
Frank Ou Mike Jeffries
Andrea Suarez Pete Smith
Copyright 2013 by
T & L Publications, Inc.
All Rights Reserved
All advertising is subject to publisher’s approval.
We are not responsible for mistakes, misprints,
or typographical errors. SERVO Magazine assumes
no responsibility for the availability or condition of
advertised items or for the honesty of the
advertiser. The publisher makes no claims for the
legality of any item advertised in SERVO. This is the
sole responsibility of the advertiser.Advertisers and
their agencies agree to indemnify and protect the
publisher from any and all claims, action, or expense
arising from advertising placed in SERVO. Please
send all editorial correspondence, UPS, overnight
mail, and artwork to: 430 Princeland Court,
Corona, CA 92879.
Printed in the USA on SFI & FSC stock.