Touch Robot

Imagine a robot that looks like a tree, with a big stem repeatedly branching into thinner, shorter and more numerous twigs, ultimately ending in an astronomical number of microscopic cilia.

If each joint can measure the forces and motions applied to it, we have a remarkable sensor. There are a trillion leaf fingers, each able to sense a movement of perhaps a tenth of a micron and a force of a few micrograms, at speeds up to a million changes per second. This is vastly greater than the sensing ability of the human eye, which has a million distinguishable points that can register changes at most a hundred times per second. If our bush puts its fingers on a photograph, it will see the image in immense detail simply by feeling the height variations of the developed silver on the paper.

In addition to having a sensing capability to match that of the world’s current human population, our bush would have the ability to affect its environment at the same prodigious rate. The bush robot could reach into a complicated piece of delicate mechanical equipment — or even a living organism — simultaneously sense the relative position of millions of parts, some possibly as small as molecules, and rearrange them for a near-instantaneous repair. In most cases the superior touch sense would totally substitute for vision and the extreme dexterity would eliminate the need for special tools.

A bush robot would be a marvel of surrealism to behold. Despite its structural resemblance to many living things, it would be unlike anything yet seen on earth. Its great intelligence, superb coordination, astronomical speed and enormous sensitivity to its environment would enable it to constantly do something surprising, at the same time maintaining a perpetual gracefulness. Two-legged animals have three or four effective gaits; four-legged animals have a few more. Two-handed humans have two or three ways to hold an object. A trillion-limbed device, with a brain to match, is an entirely different order of being. Add to this the ability to fragment into a cloud of coordinated tiny fliers and the laws of physics will seem to melt in the face of intention and will. As with no magician that ever was, impossible things will simply happen around a robot bush.

~ Hans P. Moravec (1948-11-30 age:69) in Mind Children