Lots of jobs are now handled by robots. Soon we might add Indy pit crew to the list.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has a robot that can change a tire, picking up the tire, getting it off and on the (simulated) wheel and using the lug wrench. This may sound pretty simple, but the point isn't the changing of the tire - it's holding the tools. Robots that can hold tools are a lot more versatile than those built for a specific task, because then they can adapt to doing whatever is asked of them - instead of a robot that only tightens nuts, it's possible to ask one to pick up a screwdriver as well.
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The robot won't be putting pit crews out of work just yet - it's actually rather slow. Eventually, though, models might be built that can work faster.
Gill Pratt, a program manager at DARPA, told the New York Times that the ability to move like a human hand has a lot of important military uses - imagine a robot that can rifle through a bag or box, and identify objects by touch. Right now a soldier or security officer has to do that when searching bags and in some places that's dangerous if one suspects something like a bomb is inside. Letting a robot do it would be much safer.
Advances in building practical robotic hands could also help the military design prosthetic devices for wounded soldiers. Even if they aren't directly controlled by the brain, a hand-like device that can grasp could be preferable to technologies such as hooks and pincers.
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Another part of the project is reducing costs. One reason robots aren't practical for many jobs outside of industrial plants is the price: a robotic hand hits the $10,000 mark pretty easily. To make robots useful for homes and ordinary people, that has to come down. Two groups are working on that. One is from iRobot, in Bedford, Mass., which makes Roombas. The other is from Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico. The goal is to get a robotic hand down to about $3,000, using off-the-shelf technologies.
via The New York Times Credit: YouTube Screen Grab / DARPA