Yellow submarine on a beach.

Starbug, one of CSIRO’s Autonomous Underwater Vehicles, has been used to monitor the Great Barrier Reef.

Image: CSIRO

Robots have been a popular part of science fiction for years. While robots that can think and feel like humans are still just a fantasy, robotic systems are already having an impact on our lives.

CSIRO runs one of the largest robotics research centres in the world, the Autonomous Systems Laboratory. Instead of trying to develop robots to completely replace humans, many of the projects focus on developing technology to assist humans.

One advantage robots have over humans is that they can go places dangerous or difficult for humans to get to, such as the bottom of the ocean. CSIRO’s Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) have been used to monitor marine environments such as the Great Barrier Reef. Unlike human divers, AUVs don’t require oxygen, so they can stay underwater much longer.

Robotic systems also have applications on land and in the skies. CSIRO is a partner in Project ResQu, which developed a type of unmanned helicopter. On land, robotic systems are used in a number of industries. For example, robotic systems can be used to remotely control mining equipment, removing human operators from harsh and sometimes hazardous conditions. A bit less extreme is CSIRO’s partnership with the National Museum using robots to take remote visitors, such as rural students, on a tour of the museum.

Given the often extreme conditions robotic systems are exposed to, future research efforts will include ways to improve the durability of robotic systems. Making robotic systems ‘smarter’ and easier to use are other areas for future development.

Humans still have a number of advantages over robotic systems. We might not have a robot which can solve all our problems right now but maybe we will in the not too distant future.

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