Cybernetics professor Kevin Warwick professes to be the “first Cyborg.” Project Cyborg began in August of 1998, when Warwick implanted a computer chip into his left arm, which later allowed him to open doors, move a robotic hand and operate an electronic wheelchair. The implant also allowed him to tap into the Internet at Columbia University in New York and control a robotic arm at the University of Reading in the UK.
Another one of the experiments tested telepathic communication between two individuals by way of implants. In the 70s, researchers felt that robotic arms would be a vital asset to the workplace. Little did they know, humans would consider fusing themselves with this technology to become super-human cyborgs!
Starting in 1975, robotic arms have been used for industrial purposes. In some cases, they do the work more quickly, more accurately and more efficiently than human workers ever could. Yet in other instances, they simply perform work that is too monotonous, dangerous or undesirable for men and women.
In the US auto industry, for example, there is one robotic arm for every ten workers. Industrial robots lift heavy objects, handle chemicals, and paint and assemble parts. Rather than replace jobs, the robotic system is intended to free up more creative, fulfilling work for people instead. After all, the Czech word “robota” translates to “drudgery work.”
Using a modified robotic arm, Dr. Alon Wolf and Dr. Howie Choset have developed a machine that can perform minimally-invasive surgery with great accuracy. The invention is called the “CardioARM” and has been designed for abdominal surgery, heart bypass surgery and mouth surgery, but can also be used to perform a laparoscopy, colonoscopy, and arthroscopy.
The CardioARM is operated by a joystick and can navigate through the body to the problem areas. The flexible tele-operated probe is programmed to remember pathways and it can take tools into regions that surgeons would otherwise have to slice into. “Tools in operation rooms are not flexible. The CardioARM is flexible enough for remote and hard to reach anatomies,” explains Dr. Wolf. “The heart is a good example… now we don’t have to cut the person open.”
Robotic arm technology has rapidly improved over the span of just thirty years. But what is the end goal of robotics technology? Is it to build robots that can work as our slaves? Is it to find minimally-invasive, infallible methods of performing surgery? Is it to treat injuries? Is it to teach? Or is it to become super-humans? There are a number of ways to approach this science, making it impossible to tell just what the future of robotic development holds.