Trying to keep on top of advances in robotic technology is starting to make my head spin.  An article in the New York Times shows of rapidly this technology is changing how we work and live.

Would it brother you if your doctor used one of these guys to visit you?

From “The Boss Is Robotic, and Rolling Up Behind You” by John Markoff

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/05/science/05robots.html?ref=global-home

“Dr. Alan Shatzel’s pager beeped at 9 on a Saturday morning. A man had suffered a stroke, and someone had to decide, quickly, whether to give him an anticlotting drug that could mean the difference between life and death.

Dr. Shatzel, a neurologist, hustled not to the emergency room where the patient lay — 260 miles away, in Bakersfield — but to a darkened room at a hospital here. He took a seat in front of the latest tools of his trade: computer monitors, a keyboard and a joystick that control his assistant on the scene — a robot on wheels.

He guided the roughly five-foot-tall machine, which has a large monitor as its “head,” into the patient’s room in Bakersfield. Dr. Shatzel’s face appeared on screen, and his voice issued from a speaker.

Dr. Shatzel acknowledged the nurse and introduced himself to the patient’s grandson, explaining that he would question the patient to determine whether he was a candidate for the drug. The robot’s stereophonic hearing conveyed the answers. Using the hypersensitive camera on the monitor, Dr. Shatzel zoomed in and out and swung the display left and right, much as if he were turning his head to look around the room.”

Continuing:

“For years, the military and law enforcement agencies have used specialized robots to disarm bombs and carry out other dangerous missions. This summer, such systems helped seal a BP well a mile below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. Now, with rapidly falling costs, the next frontiers are the office, the hospital and the home.

Mobile robots are now being used in hundreds of hospitals nationwide as the eyes, ears and voices of doctors who cannot be there in person. They are being rolled out in workplaces, allowing employees in disparate locales to communicate more easily and letting managers supervise employees from afar. And they are being tested as caregivers in assisted-living centers.”

“All five of the United States companies that have announced or are already selling mobile robots are adding or experimenting with automation. For example, it will not be unusual for mobile robots in the next year to feature collision avoidance and lane-following technologies like those now offered in luxury automobiles. Already Vgo’s robot automatically parks itself when it is driven within a foot or two of its recharging station.

Such automated robots could help in caring for a rapidly aging population.

Vgo’s executives said they ultimately envisioned their robots being used by family members to pay visits and offer help to elderly parents, allowing them to remain independent longer. At the simplest, the Vgo robots could help workers in assisted-living homes check in on residents and make sure they were taking medicines at the correct time each day.

“We’re not replacing low-cost labor,” said Brad Kayton, Vgo’s chief executive. “We’re acting as a supplement for it.”

Others see the robots as a new means of mobility for the elderly, allowing them to stay in better contact with friends and family and visit museums and theaters, among other possible applications.

As technology advances, designers say, mobile robots will allow the elderly and others to do more than be in two places at one time. The robots will augment their human users, enhancing their senses by offering capabilities like better vision and hearing as well as futuristic skills like face recognition.”

Do you think the pace of technological change has outstripped our ability to understand how to use it best, and is having, or will soon have, and overall negative effect on our society?

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