By Leigh Howe
Not The Tin Man. Immobots are not the metallic contraptions that we think of in the movies, nor even the stripped-down devices that handle parts on an assembly line. Immobots are a new generation of autonomous systems that can control their internal functions. Think of immobots as vast nervous systems of sensors that monitor themselves and their environment. These autonomous systems can explore, command, diagnose, and repair themselves using reasoning. Immobile robots focus their attention inward, toward maintaining their internal structure. This is the opposite of how most robots are used to explore and manipulate external environments.
Not Quite AI. Immobots don’t quite have artificial intelligence, though designers are getting closer. However, immobots have capabilities well beyond today’s available software and programming. While most current programs use a heuristic or “if-then” approach, programmers give immobots a physical plan of a given system, from which they can deduce what to do. Planning for every possible situation can be expensive and time-consuming using the current programming methods. Eliminating the need for this type of hard-coding is one of the main advantages of immobots.
Baby, You Can Drive My Car. Engineers are still decades away from being able to build a car that can drive itself, but building systems that can monitor, diagnose and repair a car’s internal functions is a very real possibility. Immobot software will most certainly make its first appearance in the automotive realm. Model-based programs will be built into a new car’s onboard diagnostic modules as soon as 2004. Designers are exploring the use of immobots for spacecraft, energy systems, chemical-plant control systems, and wastewater- plant control systems to name a few. Eventually, immobots will likely control much of our vital infrastructure technology, such as air traffic management and power grids.
More information. For more information about immobots and the current research involving immobots visit the following websites:
º http://www.technologyreview.com – MIT Technology Review Magazine
º http://ic.arc.nasa.gov/ic/projects/mba/immobots/index.html – NASA
º http://www.research.ibm.com/autonomic – IBM