Watching MIT’s HERMES mimic the moves of his inventor, Joao Ramos, is almost like watching a child learning to dance by imitating his father. But this child is being trained, or more accurately, developed, for danger. The humanoid robotic life form named HERMES is being honed by MIT’s department of mechanical engineering to perform complex tasks in hazardous zones that humans cannot survive in. Designed for nuclear power plant meltdowns and other disaster scenarios, HERMES has the fine motor skills to pour coffee with gentile delicacy and also the physical power to punch holes through walls.
We asked ourselves what the requirements would be for a robot to replace a human in those situations. What would they need to be able to do? Albert Wang, PhD candidate, MIT
As it turns out, they would need to do quite a lot!
HERMES seeks to harness the power of emotion
HERMES has to be able to axe down doors and jump over obstacles as well as do intricate manual work. He also has to send sensory information back to the human pilot in the form of visuals and spatial positioning data. This is necessary not just for observation of the situation in the disaster zone, but also to keep him balanced and moving correctly. As it turns out, HERMES’ free expression of his “feelings” is what makes the whole technology work.
What Ramos has done is create a shared nervous system through his innovative use of sensors which allow him to feel HERMES as an extension of himself. As HERMES moves, Ramos senses him through his body harness (mesh suit) and corrects his balance. Any physical impact on HERMES is reported back to Ramos as well. So what has been created here is a human/robotic sensory coupling, akin to virtual reality- in reality, with Ramos in real time command as the brain! Sound like a science fiction movie you once saw?
HERMES serves up a strong latte for his human counterparts
And what will become of these sensitive machines?
HERMES may one day be able to accomplish heroic deeds thanks to his creators, but as we imbue machines with feelings, will we run the risk of creating monsters? Will HERMES and his kind turn into temperamental debutantes? Start throwing tantrums and demanding a cut of the action? Or happily find a way to mimic their creators and grow to live for service and altruism?
Let’s all hope for the latter!