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Social Robotics: Four Scenarios

This past weekend, Houston Foresight colleague Ciara O’Connell and I presented Social Robotics: Four Scenarios at the World Future Society‘s annual Conference, World Future 2016. Our presentation was part of the University of Houston’s Next Gen Foresight Grads session on Saturday, July 23, 2016.

Social Robotics: Four Scenarios looks at the field of social robotics, which involves robots with social and emotional capabilities. The presentation is a distillation of research Ciara and I conducted with Karen Jacobs, another student in the Houston program. In our work, we applied Houston’s framework foresight scanning and trending methods, and then developed four future scenarios using an application of the Global Business Network’s 2×2 matrix.

My personal interest in the social robotics space came out of my research in artificial intelligence and the suggestion made by some theorists that true intelligence or self consciousness could only arise if an intelligence were embodied, which of course led to robots, and then to the emerging new field of social robotics. It occurred to me that social robotics may in fact be the killer app for AI. Taking this initial interest, our team uncovered additional insights and synthesized our research into four compelling scenarios.

Here is our presentation:

These four scenarios are possible futures that depend on investment and development variables in the space, as well as market factors. Social robotics is likely to remain an exciting field for some time, and we’re pulling for the more democratic Ro-Buddies scenario in which everyone has their own personal robotic pal.

Thanks to Ciara and Karen for bringing so much insight and hard work to this research. Thanks also to Andy Hines of Houston Foresight, our professor and champion, as well as to the WFS for a nice conference.

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World Future Society AZ July 2016 Meeting: Dr. Jekan Thanga on Future Trends in Space Exploration

Join the Arizona chapter of the World Future Society next week, Tuesday, July 19, from 6:30 to 8:30 pm at the Scottsdale Civic Center Library Gold Room for an exciting presentation on the future of space. RSVP here.

Topic: Future Trends in Space Exploration

Speaker: Dr. Jekan Thanga, head of the Space and Terrestrial Robotic Exploration (SpaceTREx) lab at ASU.

Exploration of space can answer fundamental questions of our origins, our existence and our future. Through space exploration, we have become better aware of the threats facing our planet and potential future opportunities to explore and migrate off Earth. However, exploration of space remains an expensive endeavor that often only a select few nations can undertake due to the high cost, requirement for specialized equipment and personnel. Some of the most exciting locations in the solar system are not yet accessible due to limits in current technology and current risk postures. We are living in exciting times when this is about to change. Thanks to miniaturization of electronics, availability of long-range communication systems, availability of private launch opportunities and services in space, the stage is getting set for a new space economy.

On this new stage, are new actors, including universities, non-profit foundations, private companies, startups and individuals/hobbyists. Thanks to all these factors, we see a future where travel to low-earth orbit becomes routine, we see the foundation for extraction of resource in space, made in space products and services. Humans will routinely go into low-earth orbit for tourism, science/engineering and commerce. Instead of sending one large spacecraft or rover to a planetary surface, missions will be sending swarms of small spacecraft and robotic devices that can observe many places at once, travel harsh inhospitable environments where even if a few are damaged the mission continues.

In addition these systems will have the ability to roll, dig underground, hop and fly. Such capabilities will enable us to obtain in-situ pictures and science data, perform resource prospecting and help to uncover some tantalizing mysteries, while providing us “Google Street View” level of detail of large areas of the Moon, Mars and beyond.

About Dr. Thanga:

Assistant Professor Jekan Thanga heads the Space and Terrestrial Robotic Exploration (SpaceTREx) Laboratory at Arizona State University. He has a background in aerospace engineering from the University of Toronto. He worked on Canadarm, Canadarm 2 and the DARPA Orbital Express missions at MDA Space Missions. Jekan obtained his Ph.D. in space robotics at the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) and did a postdoc at MIT’s Field and Space Robotics Laboratory (FSRL). Jekan is broadly interested in the exploration of space and extreme environments, using networks of robots, interplanetary CubeSats and smart sensors. He is the PI or Co-PI for several space missions and concepts, including the AOSAT 1 CubeSat Centrifuge to be launched in 2017, mission concept to explore Europa’s surface using a CubeSat and SWIMSat, a satellite to look for space threats.

Space and Terrestrial Robotic Exploration (SpaceTREx) Laboratory site.