SAN FRANCISCO Twenty years ago, Tsugio Makimoto, then a Hitachi, Ltd. Semiconductor manager, delivered a keynote speech at the 1982 International Electron Devices Meeting about how robotics would play a role in semiconductor fabs, largely to transport and handle wafers in a futuristic fab.
Makimoto, now a technical advisor to Sony Corp.'s semiconductor operations, painted a much livelier picture of robots in a keynote speech today (Monday, Dec. 9) at the 2002 IEDM.
"Twenty years ago I was partly wrong. Humanoid robots are not very useful for practical purposes. Instead, robots hold great promise for entertainment," said Makimoto. Sony has sold thousands of its "Aibo" robot, which looks like a small dog, since June 1999. The new versions of Aibo are able to go to a charging station to replenish its own battery power, and include Bluetooth interfaces to share information with other Aibo robots, or with human-controlled computers.
But it was a seven-minute video of Sony's biped robot, the SDR-4X, which wowed the engineers attending the plenary session of IEDM. The video showed the SDR-4X, Sony's fourth generation biped robot, walking up and down steps, over unlevel terrain, and standing up on its own after being knocked flat on its back.
Makimoto described the several dozen DSPs and controllers, with a total 2,300 Mips of processing power, that are in the SDR-4X model.
Robots offer engineers a means of exercising "cleverness in a much broader conceptual space" than just the traditional scaling of semiconductor devices in order to boost logic and memory density. Robots require optical, mechanical, and sensor intelligence to be married to electronic control functions, and Makimoto issued a challenge to today's engineers to embrace what he said was a coming revolution in robotic intelligence.
In ten years or less, the total robotics industry will reach $30 billion, he said, and will grow to rival the personal computer industry, he predicted.
He described a MEMs-based gyrometer with integrated electronics from Analog Devices Corp. that integrates a rate sensor with the surrounding electronics. Wacoh Corp. in Japan has developed a five-axis motion sensor that is used in the SDR-4X which includes a three-axis accelerometer and a two-axis angular sensor.
And Makimoto lauded work by Ball Semiconductor Corp., which developed a spherical three-axis acceleromter that correlates a voltage in response to an inertial force, a device essential to maintaining robot balance. And he described "telemetric skin" and pneumatic artificial muscles that are under development at the University of Tokyo.
"Robotics will play a locomotive role in the future devices of the electronics industry. Because robots need electrical, mechanical, optical, and sensing devices, they offer a much broader sets of challenges than just shrinking device geometries," he said.