Tuesday, November 24, 2020

OSU Robots

Yesterday I was on the campus of Oregon State University to take my sick cat to the small animal hospital there. (It looks like she has FIV.) The campus was empty due to the pandemic, and because all the restaurants and libraries in town were closed I did nothing but walk around some and sit in my car all day -- you can't even go into the hospital with your cat -- an assistant comes out to take you cat in, then the vet calls you to discuss the diagnosis, you make a few decisions, they call you a few hours later, etc -- then at the end of the day they bring your cat back out. 

Anyway as I was meandering around I twice saw these little robots driving around campus. They're about the size of a decent ice cooler with six wheels and a flag on them, completely autonomous, going about 1 m/s. They're delivering food orders around campus. OSU is one of ten campuses in the US where this is being prototyped, invented by the developers of Skype. Since the campus was empty they seemed rather lonely as they traveled around (it's nearly impossible not to anthropomorphize these things), and it would have been interesting to see them when the campus is full of students. (The robotic food delivery service just started about a month ago.) I imagine we're only going to be seeing more of all kinds of robots as the years go by, not just on college campuses but on tech campuses, then eventually on sidewalks and roads and highways (which of course Tesla is already gunning for) and we're simply going to have to accept it. These OSU robots were pretty cool and easy to accept, and I can imagine someday not so far away where robots will be delivering mail and pizzas and dry cleaning, then coming to our homes to do small repairs and medical procedures and trimming the toenails of the elderly. It will be a bit unnerving when they're right behind you on the interstate doing 70 mph, until humans quit driving altogether, and people will look back on today like we view horse-drawn carriages. I wish I could see it.

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