Friday, September 26, 2014

The Most Valiant Attempts to Program Our Five Senses Into Robots

Ever since humans first envisioned robots, we've thought about how to make the machines more like us. Robots compete against us on game shows, and rendezvous with us in the bedroom (or at least, make virtual sex feel real). But part of being human is sensing the world around us in a particular way, and doing it all at the same time.

This is much more complicated than it seems, as scientists haven't fully unraveled how we’re able to sense what we do; it's both our hardware and software that contain codes that are difficult to crack. Still, scientists power through, discovering how their own senses work while crafting artificial versions of them. Here are some of the most valiant attempts to get robots to taste, smell, touch, hear, and see in the most human way possible.



To date, robotic taste tests have primarily been concerned with—wait for it—alcohol. In 2013, a group of Spanish researchers published a beer-sampling study conducted with the "electronic tongue" they created. Each of the 21 sensors was sensitive to a different chemical compound, which enabled the "tongue" to distinguish between types of beer about 82 percent of the time.

More recently, researchers at Aarhus University in Denmark detected changes in the most common protein found in saliva to determine how the different compounds in the wine affected it. This method is more sensitive than others, better able to taste a wine’s astringency (dryness or sourness), and may even have applications to prevent and detect diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s.



Researchers have been trying to get robots to smell since the early 1980s. It's not just because a sense of smell is so automatic for humans; smelling robots could have myriad applications, from sniffing for cancer or bombs to assessing the veracity of a wine's vintage.
Part of being human is sensing the world in a particular way, and doing it all at the same time

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