Editorial Feature

Cybernetics and Circuits for Robots

Introduction
Research
Current Applications
Future Developments
References

Introduction

Cybernetics involves studying the control and communication processes in mechanical, biological, electronic and information systems.

Cybernetics is very much becoming a part of our daily lives. The movie Terminator brought awareness about the term cybernetics by introducing the term ‘cyborg’ or cybernetic organism.

Cybernetics finds use in a number of disciplines. It is mostly seen in biological and electronic systems such as automated machinery, artificial intelligence, robots, virtual reality and also finds use in psychology, physics and politics.

Research

In 2010, Kevin Warwick, researcher at the University of Reading, created neural networks that can control machines.

The team has taken brain cells from rats, cultured these and used them as a guidance control circuit for simple-wheeled robots.

Electrical impulses from the robot enter the neuron batch and the responses that are obtained from the cells are turned into commands for the device. It is possible for the cells to form new connections that render the system as a true learning machine.

At present, the skills of these robots are quite basic. The neuron control enables the robot to avoid walls.

The avoidance of obstacles shows clear improvement over time, showing how neuron networks can render simple learning to the machines. It is truly amazing how these machines are controlled by biological cells.

Warwick suggests that these cyborgs will become more sophisticated in the coming days. Present neuron cultures have more than 100,000 cells, but only a very small fraction is involved in controlling the robot circuits.

Research teams are continually striving to improve the response and size of these cultures and how long they can survive.

Artificial intelligence has normally been attempted using computer science; however, biotech systems such as Warwick’s increase the chance that cybernetics may be a quicker route to success.

Japanese researcher Shima K et al, proposed the cybernetic human robot interface system (CHRIS) that uses not only traditional devices but also biological signals such as acceleration and electromyogram signals.

The system is capable of manipulating a range of applications that include home electric devices, an electric wheel chair and the like. The advantages of this system are:

  • The user can make use of biological signals as input signals.
  • The system can adapt to the requirements of the user
  • It is possible to freely set assignment of manipulations with respect to the input signals.
  • Various applications can be manipulated with this system.

HRP-4C is a robotic woman unveiled to reporters in Tsukuba City in 2009. This cybernetic human is worth $200,000.

HRP-4C Robotic Woman by the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology.  

This robot was developed at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology and is capable of walking and following basic commands. With a height of 158 cm and weight of 43 kg, it is about the same size as an average Japanese woman.

The robot is equipped with 30 motors that enable movement and eight motors enabling facial expressions. The female robot can use facial movements to indicate emotions such as surprise and anger.

Current Applications

Cybernetics finds applications in a number of areas, some of which are discussed below:

  • There is a lot of ongoing research in the area of neurodynamics and cognition (i.e., on the working of the brain works, especially when it can operate in a real environment). Research is also being carried out in the area of human-computer implant technology using direct connections to the nervous system.
  • Measurement, control and computation are at the heart of cybernetics. Researchers are using terahertz spectroscopy to study and understand basic biological processes that will be the key to the next generation of pharmaceutical development. The effect of terahertz radiation at the cellular level is also being studied.
  • There is a lot of research being undertaken in creating human–machine interaction environments that are adaptable, intuitive and natural. Researchers are aiming at designing systems to aid the disabled, aged and on technology that supports cognitive and speech therapy after brain injury.

Future Developments

In 2012, a German robotics company unveiled a sophisticated robotic hand that can work almost the same as a human hand.

The ExoHand, as it is called, won the second place for best-in-show Hermes award. A normal hand is highly complicated with not less than 27 bones, a sensory feedback loop and several muscles powered by three separate nerves.

The Exohand can be controlled remotely or worn as an exoskeletal glove that can perform complicated manipulations with a gentle touch. The Exohand has eight double-acting pneumatic actuators that can simulate a hand’s muscles and help the fingers pivot and the thumb to move towards the palm.

The feelings of the arm can be felt by the person operating the arm making it truly remarkable. The company believes that the glove will act as a rehabilitation device for patients recovering from injury or stroke or even for factory workers who are forced to perform repeated tasks on a daily basis.

A brain-computer interface has also been developed whereby electroencephalograms in the wearer’s head can be read enabling the user to close or open the hand through focused thought.

The future of cybernetics is highly promising and we are to see amazing technologies that will make life easier for the common man and will be a ray of hope for the aged as well as the physically and mentally challenged.

References

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