by Nicole Perez, Foresight Strategist and Innovation Designer, 20 May 2021
I recently started my new position at ETH Zurich as a Foresight Strategist and Innovation Designer. Currently, I am working on the RETHINKING LIVING project. RETHINKING LIVING convenes scientists, industry experts and outstanding global thinkers from ETH Zurich and across the world. Together, we re-think our conceptions of living, re-evaluate life choices, and re-consider the changes we would like to see in the world of tomorrow.
One aspect in this debate is the relationship between man and machine. What are the possibilities for the future? How can new forms of machines help us overcome physical barriers to move in unexplored regions, bring a new dimension of social inclusion, and expand our ability to tackle challenges of the future?
MY START WITH MISBEHAVING (RO)BOTS
How man and machine relate to each other has been on my mind since I was a student. At the University of Central St. Martins in London, for my master’s thesis I chose the topic: MISBEHAVING (RO)BOTS.
Some experts in the field of machines believe that even the most primitive and basic of human needs, such as love and intimacy, could take place with non-human partners. However, much of the current research into this still very new field, often neglects the importance of the “unnecessary“ and “irrelevant“ aspects of human relationships. Relationships don`t necessarily grow from perfection, but from loving the flaws of a partner. With MISBEHAVING (RO)BOTS, I mimicked the often overlooked frustrating, annoying and not always entirely enjoyable aspects of everyday human interactions. After all, in order to be loveable, non-human partners would need some flaws.
I look forward to be able to continue working on the relationship between man and machine at ETH Zurich, which is deeply involved in the development of machines and artificial intelligence. And of course ETH is engaged in many research projects. Some of them I would like to present here.
ROBOY HELPS TO UNDERSTAND OURSELVES
The vision of building human-like robots has been with humanity for a long time. What these robots could be like is demonstrated by the robots from ROBOY, which are built in Munich, in cooperation with the ETH. ROBOY robots imitate the human body with muscles and tendons, just as we have. This enables softer motions, safer robots and also better understanding of how we control our bodies.
ROBOY machines not only impress with a compliant, musculoskeletal robotic system, they can also interact with real people. For this the team developed its own cognitive system with speech-to-text and text-to-speech functions, as well as a memory system. The system is designed to provide enough autonomy to give answers in all situations, but also to ensure structured dialogues for public displays.
CYBATHLON CHAMPIONS INCLUSION
ETH Zurich is supporting how machines can drive inclusion with the CYBATHLON. CYBATHLON is a unique championship in which people with physical disabilities compete against each other to complete everyday tasks using state-of-the-art technical assistance systems. Beyond the competition, the CYBATHLON offers a platform to advance research in the field of assistive technology and to promote the dialogue with the public about the inclusion of people with disabilities in everyday life.
NANO AND MICRO MACHINES HAVE A HUGE IMPACT
And last but not least, I would like to present a project in which ETH Zurich is supporting how machines can advance medicine. After all, machines don’t have to be big to be effective. The team around Brad Nelson from the Institute of Robotics and Intelligent Systems is researching nano and micro machines, with the smallest possible motors and propellers.
These are designed to move intelligently to deliver drugs precisely to specific points in the body in a way that has not been possible before.
This is only a small snapshot of what goes on at ETH Zurich in this exciting field, and I am very pleased to be able to participate in RETHINKING LIVING, together with the Foresight Team at ETH Zurich. Perhaps we can make tomorrow’s life a little better.
About the author
Hi, my name is Nicole Perez. I have a background in design and foresight and I‘m an international designer, futurist and interdisciplinary thinker who likes to connect different fields of practice. My work lays at the intersection of science, technology and culture.
I joined ETH Zurich’s Strategic Foresight Hub as a Foresight Strategist and Innovation Designer. Before that, I worked at Arup’s Foresight Think Tank in Berlin. For the last couple of years, I have been responsible across industries to identify drivers and future developments to support the creation of new strategies, new innovation processes and prototypes.