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.
If you want to build or fix something in space, you might think you’d need a human to do it. But what if you didn’t? What if robotic spacecraft could be used to refuel satellites in orbit, add new instruments to outdated machinery and even build entire structures while in space?
A robust, adaptable robot that responds to its environment on the fly and overcomes obstacles such as a broken leg without human intervention could be used to rescue people from an earthquake zone or clean up sites that are too hazardous for humans.
People’s interactions with machines, from robots that throw tantrums when they lose a colour-matching game against a human opponent to the bionic limbs that could give us extra abilities, are not just revealing more about how our brains are wired – they are also altering them.
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.
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.
In November, Horizon discovers a futuristic world of transparent e-books, plastic solar cells and electronic skin with a look at some of the applications of organic electronics. We speak to organic chemist Prof. Andreas Hirsch about how using carbon rather than silicon in electronics can make them flexible, lightweight and biocompatible and could lead to a new generation of human-looking robots and ‘chemical’ computing. We take a look at work to create electronic skin – self-healing, stretchable material that can mimic some of the functions of human skin – and its potential uses. We discover how thin, flexible, plastic solar cells could turn surfaces such as cars and fabric into sources of renewable energy, and we uncover some novel approaches to charging wearable electronics.
The world looks very different from this time last year. The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the centrality of science, research and innovation, accelerated some changes already in the works, but also exposed our weaknesses. In September, Horizon looks at how the pandemic is reshaping Europe in areas including health research, work, tech, transport and food – and how research can contribute to Europe’s recovery over the coming years. We will also be covering the European Research & Innovation Days at the end of the month, which will bring together scientists, policymakers, entrepreneurs and citizens to debate how research and innovation can ensure that the transition to a post-coronavirus society is sustainable, inclusive and resilient.
In three decades of diving at locations including the Red Sea and Great Barrier Reef, Gal Eyal has seen coral reefs transform in front of his eyes.
Imagine lying on a green hill watching the clouds go by on a beautiful day. The clouds you’re probably thinking of are cumulous clouds, the ones that resemble fluffy balls of cotton wool. They seem innocent enough. But they can grow into the more formidable cumulonimbus, the storm cloud. These are the monsters that produce thunder and lightning. They are powerful, destructive and intensely mysterious. They may also be getting a lot more common, which makes understanding their workings – and their effects on the human world, including how we construct buildings or power lines – more important than ever.
Scientists are studying past conditions to understand which corals migrated to deeper waters.
A lack of knowledge about thunderstorms means we could be overengineering our tallest buildings.
Dr Kate Rychert studies ocean plate structures.