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    Exploratory Workshop on the Social Impacts of Robotics

20

consequent easing of marketing problems, early robot applications were designed to replace workers in dangerous or uncomfortable working environments, then in tasks involving heavy physical demands, and only later and more gradually in

highly repetitive tasks. Most such past applications required few advances in (8) technology, primarily representing new forms of specialized machine designs. Although later applications have required somewhat more complex operating

and control capabilities,

developmental efforts have continued to be dominated

by the objective of performing existing jobs faster or more accurately. And this approach is likely to continue among robot manufacturers because of the in- evitably narrow set of functions to be performed by anyone of their products and

the consequent need to satisfy the completely pre-defined parameters of the

component improving

tasks to be performed.

Research frontiers would accordingly concern

manipulative

capabilities,

increasing

the

precision

of

actions

taken,

enhancing the reliability and durability of operations, and broadening the

functions of programmable controls through extending the which can be duplicated and through improving provisions and “learning”.

range of human senses for adaptive adjustments

It is difficult to find persuasive data concerning relative progress in the development of robot capabilities in different countries. Active efforts have

patently been under way for some years in Western Europe, Japan and

States as well as by producers from

in Eastern Europe. each of these areas.

And impressive products American manufacturers

have have

the United been marketed been especially

complimentary about the reliability of Japanese robots and about certain capa- bilities of Swedish and Italian robots, while also praising a number of domestic

products.

But the readiness of current and prospective

to of

rattle off a long list of specific limitations which immediately rewarding applications much more sharply

American users of robots tend to narrow the range than is suggested by

general the way

discussions indicates that increased research and development may open to a major expansion of practical robot applications in domestic industries.

And resulting innovative advances might well engender the rapid growth of the domestic robot manufacturing industry in addition to accelerating increases in the productive efficiency of robot-using domestic industries.

This raises the question of whether any additional measures should be con- sidered by the government to augment the limited but increasing efforts by private

(8) For an excellent review of robotics applications by a pioneer in their

cleVelOp-

ment,

see

J.F. Engelberger,

Robotics

in

Practice (New York:

AMACOM, 1980).

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