With these systems comes the need for security, warned Krishna Venkatasubramanian, a computer science professor at WPI. Security is often still an afterthought for designers of medical robots, who may realize that they need to secure a device from hackers and privacy breaches only after a device is complete, he said. In reality, security should be built from the ground up.
Despite these challenges, Johnson, Fischer, Venkatasubramanian, and co-presenter Joseph Chapman, principal engineer at the Mitre Corp., were all extremely optimistic about the potential for medical robots to play a larger role in healthcare in the near future.
4. AI improvements needed for natural human-robot interaction
Personal robots such as Jibo appear to be on the brink of entering the consumer market, and security and guide robots are already being tested in airports. LiveWorx attendees expressed the common expectation for more human-like robots to become available soon. However, while advances have been made, software designers still face challenges with social robots.
“Looking at a robot, there’s an immediate expectation that there will be human qualities,” stated Harper.
One challenge is the incorporation of multi-modality, so that robots can perceive and communicate through speech, gestures, and facial expressions. This responsiveness requires the integration of cameras, microphones, and other input methods, said Harper. For now, devices like Amazon Alexa simplify integration through interfaces such as wake-up phrases. The phrases alert the robots to upcoming commands.
“Most of the time, [these robots] are designed to do nothing, they’re just sitting there listening,” noted Harper. He added that enabling future robots to support commands without wake-up phrases adds a whole new level of AI challenge and margin for error. “That’s why the wake-up phrase is used to today to give that level of accuracy,” Harper said.
5. Drone delivery is coming soon, but it will initially focus on small, high-priority orders
Many people long for the day when they will be able to make an online order and walk outside an hour or so later to witness a drone dropping of their package at their doorstep. Drone delivery is likely within the next few years, but it will not be universal, said Helen Greiner, co-founder of iRobot and chief technology officer of CyPhy Works.
CyPhy has already tested drone delivery in Massachusetts, running a scenario in which a drone delivered medication to a summer camp on an island.
Greiner elaborated on the future process for drone delivery, explaining that GPS coordinates could be given to the drone pre-flight. After the drone flies to the location, it could scan the area for humans or other obstacles and drop the package via a drop line without ever having to land.
Due to the prevailing costs of these types of deliveries and far easier logistics of delivering via a daily truck route, initial drone deliveries will likely only focus on small, urgent orders, Greiner said. Aerial drones would operating around the timeframe or route of delivery trucks. However, as drone technology improves and these initial deliveries prove successful, it is likely that drone delivery could become the new form of premium delivery, she predicted.