LS3 Big Dog By RDECOM on Flickr

Lots of science fiction set in the near-future uses robotics as scenery, if not the focus of the plot. Robotics is a field continually surprising us with innovations. New opportunities are discovered and old ideas are proven impractical with each advancement. Whether you’re trying to find inspiration in our futuristic now, or critiquing how the 80’s pictured the millennium, here are three trends in modern robotics that you’ll want to keep your eye on.

1. New Methods of Mobility

Walking on two legs is difficult. We have over 4 million years of evolutionary development, and some of us still can’t manage to do it without running into doorframes. Scientists spend a lot of time looking to nature for more stable or efficient means of getting around. One subject that has been the focus of many experiments is insect-like flight for miniature bots.

Not content with something as mundane as insect-sized flying robots, other researchers are testing designs for a robot that “flies like the jellyfish swims.” The flapping of this robot’s wings automatically stabilizes it when it starts to drift. It’s still somewhat clumsy, but more efficient than robots with insect-like wings that are continually making course corrections.

Pushing boundaries in a completely different direction, researchers in Zurich have invented the Cubli. This balancing cube robot is able to jump up from a resting position onto an edge or corner, maintain its balance on inclined planes, and “walk” to its destination.

2. Superior Perception

Did you know that there is a robotic hand that is unbeatable at Rock-Paper-Scissors? Well, okay, it cheats. The robot waits to see what play its human opponent is making. But it’s cheating so fast that the human eye can’t see what’s happening. Ishikawa Oku Lab managed this feat by creating a new type of camera that can track moving objects with high precision. With a little adaptation, such a camera would be able to record entire books by rapidly flipping pages.


Another group of researchers are designing a system that uses facial expressions, vocal patterns, and posture to detect emotions of a human user with 70% accuracy. Sounds like there’s still a long way to go right? Well, according to their research, that’s already as good as the average person’s intuition!

Sadly, this means there will probably never be androids struggling to learn emotions. A real-life 24th century Data will be explaining emotional cues and social faux pas to the crew of the Enterprise instead of being clueless. Unless Soong sadistically and intentionally leaves emotion out of his programming…

3. Self-Operation

As robotics advance, so does the sophistication of automation. The self-driving car is already a reality; the only major hurdle left is creating a legal framework that will allow them to share the road with human drivers.

Automation is already well-known in industry, of course, but even there, there’s room for change. There is a new design for demolition robots that replaces several human-guided machines at once. Not only will these robots scan the work site and create their own routes, but also collect the concrete they pulverize to recycle into new building material.

The Amazon PrimeAir is promised to have the ability to set its own flight plan to customers based on GPS coordinates at time of purchase. Some are saying it will also have the ability to anticipate and evade pesky humans trying to knock it out of the sky for its contents.

This is just the tip of the iceberg for where robotics is headed. These three trajectories will be taking robotics to interesting places in the coming years. Researchers and engineers are always dreaming up new advances, so there will be much more to come.

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