Connected through the cloud, as part of an intelligent swarm, in homes and on the streets, robots are about to break into our daily lives. In this issue of Horizon, we talk to the scientists who are putting Europe at the forefront of robotics research.
That includes Dr Markus Waibel, who is turning low-cost robots into highly intelligent devices by connecting them to remote data centres, and Professor Maurice-Xavier François, who is developing technology to enable robots to carry out missions deep into interstellar space.
We sent a camera crew to France to meet Rob Knight, an engineer who has made a robot that can move just like a human. Professor Maarja Kruusmaa from Estonia explains how underwater robots can navigate the seabed using sonar.
Professor Bruno Siciliano, at the University of Naples Federico II, explains that robots can make Europe more competitive, creating jobs. We also speak to Professor František Štĕpánek, from the Czech Republic, where the word ‘robot’ was first used. He is making microscopic robots to deliver cancer drugs directly to a tumour.
From about 245 to 66 million years ago, dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Although well-preserved skeletons give us a good idea of what they looked like, the way their limbs worked remains a bigger mystery. But computer simulations may soon provide a realistic glimpse into how some species moved and inform work in fields such as robotics, prosthetics and architecture.
Should we have special laws to govern robots? The question isn’t being debated in parliaments and newspaper columns yet, but robots currently under development are becoming so astute at learning to interact like humans that it’s only a matter of time.
Antibiotics which break down before bacteria can evolve resistance to them; perfumes which release the heady scent of freshly cut flowers as your body heats up; and powerful cancer drugs directed to exactly where they are needed are some of the potential applications of microscopic chemical robots under development in Europe.
Professor Bruno Siciliano specialises in control and robotics at the University of Naples Federico II and is a past president of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Robotics and Automation Society. He believes that robots can make Europe more competitive, creating jobs.
Dumped waste, from used nappies to industrial by-products, have long wound up in landfills and can take hundreds of years to decay. In October we speak to the scientists figuring out how to keep such items in use to reduce rubbish and create a so-called circular economy. We learn about new efforts to mine industrial waste for the rare metals that go into making aircraft parts, pacemakers and bicycle gears, and find out about the culture shift needed to develop a zero-waste society. We also speak to the researchers building a biorefinery to turn soiled nappies into fertilisers and raw materials, and look at whether seaweed could become the next plastic.
The model of our universe as expanding at an accelerated rate has given rise to theoretical constructs such as dark energy and dark matter, which scientists believe could make up 95% of the universe. In September, Horizon takes a deeper look at what we really know about the expanding universe. We speak to Prof. Subir Sarkar, who believes that the Nobel-winning discovery that universe expansion acceleration could be a fluke, and the scientists who are trying to answer the question by allowing us to better measure the expansion rate. We also look at the significance of accurately measuring gravity in deep space, and what dark matter haloes can tell us about the existence of dark energy.
As wind turbines become increasingly familiar sights along shorelines, developers of offshore floating platforms, which harness the powerful winds further out to sea, are seeking to establish their technologies as a major viable source of clean energy.
Bill Gates and the European Commission have launched a €100 million investment fund designed to bring radical clean energy technologies more quickly to market in order to promote energy efficiency and cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Floating wind turbines could be a clean energy game changer.
Europe's leadership 'more important than ever', says Gates.
A circular economy needs new business models and reusable products, says Felipe Maya.