local ability to understand, but if you send a person to a room and the room is locked the person is not going to sit there. A robot however will just sit there unless you've programmed it otherwise. In a distributed system robots may be stuck doing things nobody knows about.”
It sounds like the long-term ideal for distributed robotics then would be to implement AI sophisticated enough that it can adapt even to unforeseen circumstances – essentially having robots able to program themselves. Gini agrees, though she said that this notion is far off at this point. However, she said that as distributed robots are applied to more complex tasks the algorithms and AI behind them will also grow in complexity.
“Right now the areas where these things are looking to be used are warehouses such as Amazon's distribution centers – though Amazon uses a centralized system. Hospitals can use robots to move medicines, supplies, and food around and they're also trying to automate as much as possible so that they don't need a centralized system. “
Someday however distributed robotics could be seen outside of the manufacturing and could one day pop up in our smart cities and become a key technology in the widespread use of autonomous vehicles. “Vehicle routing problems are another big application,” Gini said. “If you think about the logistics of trucks, for example. How is this done? It can be done centrally but imagine a system where each truck diver gets a list that says, 'These are the things we need to ship around. How much will it cost you?' and the driver submits a bid.”
Now imagine those trucks are automated and you can start to envision how it would work. “Technically, in general you are not guaranteed to find an optimal solution,” Gini said. “But a more robust system can be resilient when things break, when there's noise in the communication, or something else. With robots it's very critical because things never work the way you expect them to.”
Artificial Intelligence: What Will the Future Be?
Intelligent systems and robots will one day help us with routine tasks, handle dangerous jobs, and keep us company. But they could also make decisions that violate our ethical principles, take control of our lives, and disrupt society. Join Maria Gini — accompanied by her AI-enabled humanoid robot — during her keynote address at ESC Minneapolis Nov. 8-9, 2017, and explore state-of-the-art intelligent systems and discuss future developments and challenges. Use the code SAVE15ESCMINN to save 15% when you register today!
Chris Wiltz is a senior editor at Design News covering emerging technologies, including VR/AR, AI, and robotics.