GM, Honda, RIA and The Future of Robotics

By Jeff Burnstein, RIA President

GM and Honda are two of the world’s largest robotics users. GM installed the first industrial robot nearly 50 years ago and continues to be a global leader in applying robotics technology.

Honda also has a long and successful history of using robots on the factory floor. In recent years Honda has gained worldwide attention for its humanoid robot, ASIMO.

I recently watched Honda’s new documentary “Living with Robots.” It’s quite an interesting piece and makes it very clear that Honda, which has been working on mobility for ASIMO since 1986, intends to develop home servant robots.

Contrast that with GM’s recent announcement of its collaboration with NASA on the Robonaut 2, a robotic development that emphasizes dexterity. It’s clear  that GM is interested in using these robots for assembly purposes on the factory floor.

In otherwords, GM is developing advanced robots to help  build cars, Honda is focused on advanced robots to assist people in their homes. Two different companies, two different visions of the future of robotics. Or, are the visions similar at their core?

I tend to think ASIMO and Robonaut share a common view, which is that the future involves robots working side by side with people. Whether it be in the home, factory, stores, hospitals or any other area of our daily lives, we’re going to be in far closer contact with robots in the years ahead.

That’s why I think the title of Honda’s documentary is right on target. We need to become accustomed to living with robots. In the US, robots often have negative connotations, fueled by Hollywood and media images of “terminators” and other evil robots. Other countries, like Japan and Korea, look at robots more favorably. But, even in countries where robots are more widely accepted, thought has to be given to what the robots of the future should look like. Should they look exactly like people? Should they have human characteristics but different faces? What type of robots will people be most comfortable with?

At RIA we embrace all robotics developments.  I had a phone conversation yesterday with a member who thought that RIA was only interested in industrial robotics. It’s easy to understand why he would have that perception, as most of our members focus primarily on factory floor applications. However, many of our members have developed robots for use outside of the factory and seek more opportunities in non-industrial robotics. They are aggressively pursuing relationships with companies involved in mobile robotics, sensors, artificial intelligence and related areas that can marry the strengths of today’s industrial robots with the needs of tomorrow’s “everyday” robots.

GM and Honda are both members of RIA. Unlike many trade associations, RIA membership is open to users as well as suppliers (and integrators, consulting firms, universities and educational institutions, and any other organizations active in robotics).

ASIMO and Robonaut. Two exciting developments at the forefront of the future of robotics. Both from RIA member companies. I think you can see why I’m excited about the future of robotics and RIA’s role in helping shape it!


14 Responses to GM, Honda, RIA and The Future of Robotics

  1. Kerry Kirsch says:

    I’m glad you raised the question about robots being designed with human features. It is interesting to see many of the advances that have been made in this area and how far we have come since the early days of robotics. Clearly to replace a human with a human-like robot doing a multitude of human tasks would make some sense to replicate human funtionality. But would an ideal general purpose robot really look human? Even in Stars Wars, robots looked different and had specialties. C3PO was a linguistics robot that had human features, while R2D2 was more of a worker and had very little in common with human form. I suppose we need to define what our expectations of the robot are and start with a clean sheet of paper. It’s unlikely that most would be humanoid in appearance. Why only two arms? What about night vision and eyes in the rear of the head (if there is a head)?

  2. […] GM, Honda, RIA and The Future of Robotics « Robots in America […]

  3. Tom W says:

    I think its great to see you mention both Japanese and US auto manufacturers in your blog. I think its good to have the readers reminded that automation is happening across the globe. I feel if more companies embraced robotics they could see a positive change in their businesses.

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