Robotics is embedded design made visible. It is one of the few ways that users and designers can see and understand the rate of change in embedded technology. The various sensing and actuating subsystems are not the end-system, nor does the user much care how they are implemented, but both user and designer can recognize how each of the subsystems contribute, at a high level of abstraction, to the behavior of the end-system.
The state of the art for robotic systems keeps improving. Robots are not limited to military applications. Robots are entrenched in the consumer market in the form of toys and cleaning robots. Aquaproducts and iRobot are two companies that sell robots into the consumer market that clean pools, carpets, roof gutters, and hard floors.
A recent video from the GRASP (General Robotics Automation Sensing and Perception) Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania demonstrates aggressive maneuvers for an autonomous, flying quadrotor (or quadrocopter). The quadrotor video demonstrates that it can autonomously sense and adjust for obstacles, as well as execute and recover from performing complex flight maneuvers.
An even more exciting capability is groups of autonomous robots that are able to work together toward a single goal. A recent video demonstrates multiple quadrotors flying together to carry a rigid structure. At this point, the demonstration only involves rigid structures, and I have not yet been able to confirm whether the cooperative control mechanism can work with carrying non-rigid structures.
Building robots that can autonomously work together in groups is a long-term goal. There are robot soccer competitions that groups such as FIRA and RoboCup sponsor throughout the year to promote interest and research into cooperative robots. However, building packs of cooperating robots is not limited to games. Six development teams were recently announced as finalists for the inaugural MAGIC (Multi Autonomous Ground-Robotic International Challenge) event.
Robotics relies on the integration of software, electronics, and mechanical systems. Robotics systems need to be able to coordinate sensing the external world with their own internal self-state to navigate through the real world and accomplish a task or goal. As robotic systems continue to mature, they are incorporating more context recognition of their surroundings, self-state, and goals, so that they can perform effective planning. Lastly, multiprocessing concepts are put to practical tests, not only within a single robot, but these concepts are tested within packs of robots. Understanding what does and does not work with robots may strongly influence the next round of innovations within embedded designs as they adopt and implement more multiprocessing concepts.