Robots are already vacuuming our carpets, heading into combat and assisting docs on medical procedures. Get ready for a next generation of "near human" bots that'll do a lot more: independently perform surgeries, harvest our crops and herd our livestock, and even administer drugs from within our own bodies.
Those are only a few of the suggested applications for robots in a massive new federal research program. The military's blue-sky research arm, Darpa, is pairing up with four other agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Homeland Security, to launch a major push that'd revolutionize robotic capabilities and put bots pretty much everywhere, from hospitals to dude ranches to "explosive atmospheres."
In a single mega-solicitation for small business proposals, the agencies note that robotics technology is "poised for explosive growth," thanks to rapid improvements in microprocessing, algorithms and sensors. Of course, Darpa's been behind much of the progress. The agency has already launched programs to create a real-life C3PO, a bot that can match human intellect and a four-legged BigDog robo-beast. Not to mention the organization’s ongoing research into cognition and neural control, including efforts to map monkey minds to yield neurally controlled prosthetics.
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