Industrial robots form an essential part of the current manufacturing sector of India. Without the use of robotics technologies or cost-effective production, a pillar of emerging Indian wealth would not be possible. Furthermore, robot-based production increases product quality, improves work conditions and leads to an optimised use of resources. The miniaturisation of robotic technologies and newly developed sensing capabilities mean that these benefits are becoming applicable to an even wider range of manufacturing industries, including those with small and varying lot sizes, materials and product geometries.
Robots can also be effective in areas where there are skill shortages. Significant application opportunities exist in the emerging service robotics sectors, whose products will impact on our everyday lives by contributing high-value-added services and providing safer working conditions. In the fields of medical diagnosis, therapy and rehabilitation, robot-based systems will assist health workers performing novel procedures, thereby increasing their effectiveness. The aging population will drive the application of robotic technologies that improve the quality of life and assist people to live longer and more comfortably in their own homes.
Robotic technologies, such as navigation, motion control and sensing and cognition, will enable a broad range of innovations in today’s products resulting, for example, in more flexible, environmentally friendly transport systems and intelligent household appliances. Eventually these technologies will reach levels of sophistication which will enable widespread use of intelligent robots and robotic devices to perform a variety of tasks in homes, offices and public places.
Driven by the increased security needs of Indian citizens and the higher workload resulting from extended monitoring of our everyday environments, robots already play an increasing role in the security market. Tele-operated mobile systems are now being used in a number of security applications including bomb disposal. In the future, robots will autonomously assist with the protection of offices and homes, and will help secure borders or monitor the environment in both routine and emergency operations.
In space, the use of robots has become almost obligatory. Both unmanned and manned missions, be it in earth orbit or interplanetary, will be preceded or augmented by robots. In addition, the technologies applicable to space robotics will enable a wide range of earth-based exploration and material-processing activities from automated undersea inspection to mining and mineral extraction under hazardous conditions.
Future of robotics
Modern robotics engineers are confronted with the task of developing machines that interact with their creators in modes of increasing compatibility. Understanding the mapping of DNA will not drive the creation of more compassionate robots in the future. Understanding discontent, and its cause, is the key to unlocking this portion of the human algorithm.
Underwater robotics. The ocean covers about 71 per cent of the earth and each year of research and exploitation shows that ocean exploration will be a prime subject of interest for man in the future. The rapidity in the development of robust systems routinely operated, or the design of new solutions, is strongly influenced by the investors involved. Designing an underwater system is an expensive task, but results in a cost-effective tool. In the commercial sector of the hydrographic industry, the unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) is already making a significant impact. Remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) are currently routinely deployed for intervention on immersed structures or surveying wide-range areas.
Considerable research effort has been made to improve process performance and control strategies for the various underwater processes over the last half century. However, there are still many problems to overcome. The major efforts on research and development should be focussed on the following topics:
1. Modelling accuracy should be quantified
2. State estimation error has to be bounded
3. Guidance and control systems should exhibit global practical convergence
4. Mission control system and the hardware and software architectures need to be reactive and determinist
5. Efficient vertical communication
6. Minimal horizontal communication
7. Coordinated maneuvers
8. Obstacle avoidance
9. An efficient management of the terrain knowledge
Futuristic robots may be coming soon to an ocean near you. Underwater robotics promises to open a new chapter in the notoriously challenging exploration of earth’s ocean. Future scope of ocean exploration due to underwater robotics includes:
1. Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance
2. Mine countermeasures
3. Anti-submarine warfare
6. Communication/navigation network nodes
7. Payload delivery
8. Information operations
9. Time-critical strike
10. Underwater welding
Nanorobotics is the emerging technology field creating machines or robots whose components are at or close to the scale of a nanometer. More specifically, nanorobotics refers to the nanotechnology engineering discipline of designing and building nanorobots, with devices ranging in size from 0.1µm to 10µm and constructed of nanoscale or molecular components. The names nanobots, nanoids, nanites, nanomachines or nanomites have also been used to describe these devices currently under research and development.
Nanomachines are largely in the R&D phase, but some primitive molecular machines and nanomotors have been tested. The first useful applications of nanomachines might be in medical technology which could be used to identify and destroy cancer cells. Another potential application is the detection of toxic chemicals and the measurement of their concentrations in the environment.
Medical robotics is causing a paradigm shift in therapy. The rapid growth in medical robotics is driven by a combination of technological improvements (motors, materials and control theory), advances in medical imaging (higher resolutions, magnetic resonance imaging and 3D ultrasound) and an increase in surgeon/patient acceptance of both laparoscopic procedures and robotic assistance. Intensive research on medical robotics in current scenario and future may encroach various medical domains, such as:
Neurological, Orthopedics, General laparoscopy, Percutaneous, Steerable catheters, Radiosurgery, Prosthetics and exoskeletons and Assistive and rehabilitation systems.
Medical robots must develop a firm basis in improved medical outcomes, or risk being displaced by pharmaceuticals, tissue engineering, gene therapy and rapid innovation in manual tools. Robots will see more use for medical-training purposes, bolstered by improved tissue-modelling capabilities, by the increasing objectivity in healthcare assessment, by advances in computer simulations, and as a result of increased data mining arising naturally from improved data connectivity between devices and between institutions. Improvements in medical robotics must address and solve real problems in healthcare, ultimately providing a clear improvement in quality of life when compared with the alternatives.
Robots for surveillance and intervention
Surveillance and intervention robots protect homes, public buildings, industrial sites or a country’s borders. They generally work on the ground, but may also operate on or under water or in the air. These robots require some cognitive capabilities, particularly with respect to decision making, planning and situation awareness. Currently, their primary task is to gain information and to report back. In the mid term, the use of flying robotic platforms for surveillance and monitoring will increase, in parallel with a maturation of all relevant regulations.
In the long term, such robots will also be able to accomplish more complex tasks such as responding to sudden and unexpected events, and identifying abnormal activities or potentially dangerous situations. Complex security missions will also increasingly require the deployment and cooperation of multiple robotic systems.
These robots will interact with humans on a cognitive and physical level. Their task may be to help educate a child, play games with them or provide a social companion for an elderly person. Multi-modal communication including the assessment of a person’s emotional state and the physical expression of emotions and gestures are of special importance in this context. Pupils, students and enthusiasts may learn much about technologies related to robotics in the process of building such systems.
India’s strength and future planning
Robotics relies on a variety of fundamental domains and is thus to a large extent the science of integrating a broad spectrum of technologies. All technologies essential to robotics have aspects that are almost exclusively relevant in the context of robotics and aspects that are relevant not only to robotics but also to other domains. Good examples of the first, robotics-driven group are manipulation, navigation and perception. Batteries provide a good example of the second group where advances will benefit robotics, but where, for now, robotics will not be a driving force.
Competitive advantages in high-technology areas are hard won. India must not only retain leadership where this has been achieved, but also take the lead in first-wave technologies. For India’s success, it will be vital to capitalise on its existing strong academic base through well-managed technology transfer. However, India cannot afford to only concentrate on areas of strength; it will also need to foster technologies that could become critical barriers to market. In areas of relative weakness, an informed decision has to be made whether a dependence on others is acceptable.
Robotics is the art and commerce of robots, their design, manufacture, application and practical use. Robots will soon be everywhere, in our home and at work. They will change the way we live. This will raise many philosophical, social and political questions that will have to be answered.
With both the government and non-government organisations showing an avid interest in the development of robotics, the future of robotics in India is bright and one day it will be an integrated part of the Indian public serving humanity. But robotics research and education is still at infancy and more areas need to be explored in the near future with intensive training and research at under-graduate, postgraduate and doctoral levels.
Somshekhar Mohanty is an electrical and electronics engineer by profession and he has a passion for robotics. He works with Department of EEE, Sathyabama University, Chennai. Subhranshu Sekhar Samal is currently working as a Scientist-D in Centre for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology at Sathyabama University Campus, Chennai. His area of interest include CNTs and CNT-based composites, antibacterial activities of various nanosctructures and concretre corrosion