The future is among us and it is a young science in name Robotics. It represents one of the most relevant areas of scientific-technical progress that marked the twentieth century, thus inaugurating a new era in human history. Robots are intelligent machines capable of more or less autonomous decisions. They are used in industrial processes, are at the service of surgery, diagnostics, used as robotic prostheses, in agriculture, construction and in the field of inspection and maintenance of infrastructures.
The progress of Robotics is based on the progress of three key areas of research: the perception, entrusted to a sensory system capable of acquiring information on the mechanical system and the environment; L’action, guaranteed by a mechanical system equipped with locomotion organs to move (wheels, tracks, mechanical legs) and / or manipulation organs to intervene on objects in the surrounding environment (mechanical arms, artificial hands, tools); finally the cognition which corresponds to an intelligent control system that governs motion in relation to what happens in the environment. It is precisely this perception – cognition – action cycle that determines the complexity in the realization of a robotic system which, in line with the human being, should be endowed with perceptive capabilities such as to allow it to interact in the environment. But the studies do not proceed exactly at the same speed and are recomposed in a jagged frontier that gives shape to robotic systems with hybrid qualities, some inferior to human beings, others superior foreshadowing a future that is already among us.
To frame the state of the art of research and imagine the future scenarios we must differentiate machines with a body, embodied, from those non-embodied. If we think of intelligent machines without a body, such as smartphones, we can say that they have benefited from a profound innovation determined by information and communication technologies (ICT) thanks to which they have become powerful means, extensions of our person, who have radically changed the way we communicate and participate in society because today they are devices within everyone’s reach. Information and communication technologies also influence our robots which, being equipped with bodies and artificial intelligence, represent the new form of glue between our physical world and the digital universe we have created opening a new perspective for a radical and gradual transition from ICT to InterAction Technology (IAT), a prelude to an interaction between robot and human being, between natural and artificial intelligence. This link is also confirmed, at European level, by the very name of the unit that finances the research programs: AI, Data and Robotics, as well as by the newly created ADRA (AI, Data and Robotics Association) which feeds the Public Private Partnership (PPP) with the European Commission.
On the Italian front, for the National Research Plan (PNR) 2021? 2027 promoted by the MUR, together with the group of experts of which I was the coordinator, we have drawn up a document on Robotics with six priority areas on which to orient research and applications: Robotics in a hostile environment, Robotics for industry 4.0, the inspection and maintenance of infrastructures, agri-food, health and mobility with autonomous vehicles. A transversality of application fields characterized by a strong technological gradient with increasingly close integration with artificial intelligence.
In Italy we boast a long history of progress in scientific thought and the most advanced technical research that has allowed us to create intelligent machines of quality and of great industrial and social value. Against this background operates theInstitute of Robotics and Intelligent Machines (I-RIM) created to promote the development and use of Interaction Technologies for the well-being of citizens and society by leveraging the great strength of the Italian manufacturing industry and the excellence of our research in robotics and intelligent machines. The motto of I-RIM – we embody Artificial Intelligence – encompasses all the efforts at national and European level that make it possible to grasp the complex challenges of an economic, natural and social nature, not least the CoViD-19 emergency.
They will be theintuitiveness in the use andaccessibility of prices, like the devices we usually use, to make interaction technologies implementable on a large scale, and therefore in fact truly ubiquitous. In the future we are designing, the socialization process of robotics will conform to an anthropocentric approach, for the benefit of the community, towards a technological and digital humanism which will help to further extend the boundary of the person making him the protagonist of a revolution that brings with it new languages, ways of sharing, ways of knowing, working and participating in collective life. And a new thrust: that of sharing a universe of values and an ethics that reflects the changes brought about by new technologies.