Personal robots have their legislation

The 21st century is lacking the robots. After so many books, and science fiction films, we had imagined sharing these days with robot Butlers, police robots, nurses robot and deliverers robots and the only thing we have at the moment are robot vacuum cleaners. Roomba, intelligent vacuum cleaner, hit the market in 2002 and now we have sold over 10 million worldwide, but over a decade later, has not reached the hatching of domestic robotics. But there are signs of change, such as robotic takeovers that Google has made a stroke. Several milestones have been accumulated in the last month announcing the emergence of the era of robots.

One of the most significant, but has gone unnoticed is the approval of the first security framework designed for personal assistance robots. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO, for its acronym in English) has completed its task of defining parameters which should govern robots designed to serve and care for people. Just as the ISO-9001 is the global benchmark for quality management, ISO-13482 standard aims to become the same in the field of mechanical companions. Developed by scientific experts in robotics, opens the door to making sure attendees worldwide.

This ISO has taken almost a decade to complete, which gives an idea of the size of the task complex: its hundreds of items are much more elaborate than the three laws devised Isaac Asimov, created around the hypothetical will of the robots damage or not humans. Not even been taken into account, says Professor Gurvinder Virk, coordinator of the 50 experts from 14 countries who have developed these standards. “Not at all, this is real I proposed by Asimov is not a problem for robots in practice and was not taken into account in our work”.

The first major problem that faced these specialists in robotics was to delineate the numerous possibilities involving the concept: robots for the care and support of people covering such a wide range of smart appliances ranging from a guide dog with wheels up to one exoskeleton leg for a still, through an independent arm that gives food to an elderly man. After ruling to catalog all possibilities, we chose to lump them into three categories: mobile servant, assistant physical carrier of people.

Currently, there is already a device on the market that has been developed in accordance with the laws of ISO. It is an exoskeleton, a robotic suit that strengthens the physical capabilities of the limbs of the wearer, the Japanese firm Cyberdyne called HAL, the evil computer as 2001: A Space Odyssey. In the field of robotics, references to science fiction are most common: the company that makes the Roomba vacuum cleaner is called iRobot, in tribute to the work of Asimov and the company that unleashed disasters Skynet in Terminator called Cyberdyne. HAL is the first, but Virk is convinced that this year will reach new products: “The domestic robots will be mainstream pretty soon”, said excited.

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“It takes about standards, the industrial fabric needs some guarantees to jump to make huge investments”, says Carlos Balaguer, professor in the Robotics Lab at the Carlos III University of Madrid. ISO standards can serve as a foundation on which to build the confidence of businesses and consumers to be open to the adventure of a robot get home, says Balaguer. Currently, European citizens do not want to see or painting robots doing tasks such as caring for the elderly and children.

Safety issues to be avoided not look anything like an uprising of robotic armies. They are so easy (and dangerous) like telling a robot to take a step to the left and it move to the right. Or what to do when they run out or disconnect power: stop what they are doing orderly (putting a person safely on the ground and off) or blocked blow with the risks it may pose. Although it seems counterintuitive, the more autonomous the robot is, the safer it will be.

“A car is safe unless you use it as a kamikaze weapon. A robot, the more independent variables will be more controlled, preventing them teach you things you should not do. But the technology is far from the necessary autonomy and do not even have still a legal regulation to indicate who is to blame if gets out of hand. Programmer Is? From the designer? From the industry?”, reflects Balaguer, Vice Chancellor for Research at the Carlos III.


“The safest thing for everyone is to keep the robot as far as possible from the people who attend, to minimize risks”, he says. Balaguer exemplified a mechanical arm that developed in his laboratory that would serve to feed disabled. After trying to deposit Carefully spoon in the mouth of the person, decided that followed were still too dangerous: “You better close the spoon until very close to the mouth and leave it still to be the user to lengthen the neck to eat”. When giving soup can be a hazard, Asimov’s laws seem very distant.

“Years ago a revolution that comes not expected”, said Balaguer”, and the lack of standards is one of the reasons”. In 2012, it sold nearly three million domestic robots, 20% more than in 2011, but they were toy robots, floor cleaning or mowing. Of assistance for the disabled, one of the areas most promising from now, only 159 units were sold in 2012, just three more than in 2011 (156), according to the International Federation of Robotics, he hopes they sold 6400 until 2016. The products are as HAL, in need of a major high-tech development as being made right now in a lot of research projects around the globe.

The price alienates potential users HAL: rent for one year a team of two legs climbing stairs that allow a person with reduced mobility costs about 20,000 euros. Indeed, much of the current research is focused on reducing the costs and expenses of the robots: to launch Atlas, the great humanoid created by Boston Dynamics (recently acquired by Google) and DARPA (the research agency of the U.S. Defense) requires the same energy that would feed a block of flats in a city.

“The biggest challenge now is to comply with complex security requirements and at the same time produce devices that can be sold at an affordable and competitive price”, defends the Dutch expert Jan Veneman, who is temporarily in the applied research center Tecnalia, where it provided the only Spanish participation in the development of ISO-13482. To Veneman, pose major technical challenges make walking more flexible and efficient, as animals or humans, so they can move smoothly into human environments and are able to physically interact, talking and understanding emotions of people.

The pioneer in this field was the researcher Cynthia Breazeal of MIT, who (in a laboratory workshop reminiscent JF Sebastian in Blade Runner) brought the world the first social robot Kismet capable of exchanging gestures with humans in the 1990s, and his ultimate heir Leonardo. Since then, the machines are much more developed, as Kirobo, space robot that has flown to the International Space Station to give astronauts conversation. Because his intention is to be an ideal companion whether for the elderly, children or lonely people. But as Kismet, has not yet managed to enter the houses.

That was the goal of Robocom, a European mega-project that aspired to over the next decade to design robots that talk. Companion robots capable of assisting the elderly, care for sick or act on rescue missions. The European Commission rejected the project, after giving him 1.5 million euros test, and chose to use 2000 million budgeted fund researches of graphene and the human brain. A major frustration for researchers and Balaguer who had pinned their hopes on the momentum that a mega project like that could mean for the study of robots.


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