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机器人看护:有哪些难题需要解决?

Will we ever have robot carers?
机器人看护:有哪些难题需要解决?

Films like Robot and Frank and I, Robot, as well as animated television shows like The Jetsons, have portrayed a future where robotic servants undertake household chores, allowing families to spend more time together and for elderly people to remain independent for longer.

在电影《机器人与弗兰克》(Robot and Frank)和《我,机器人》(I, Robot),以及动画片《杰森一家》(The Jetsons)中,都描绘了机器人在未来扮演帮仆的角色,负责做家务,让家人有更多时间相处,也让老年人可以更长时间保持独立生活。

A future of robotic carers is closer than we may realise. Robotic vacuum cleaners and lawn mowers are already available while there has been a massive uptake of assistive technologies for elder care in Japan. Middlesex University’s robot Pepper recently appeared before a parliamentary select committee in the UK to answers questions about the role of robots in education.

机器人看护可能会比我们想像的更早出现。机器人吸尘器和除草机已经面世,日本也出现了许多照看老年人的辅助科技工具。米德尔塞克斯大学(Middlesex University)的机器人佩珀(Pepper)最近现身英国的议会选举委员会,就机器人在教育方面的角色问题作答。
Carer robots, on the other hand, are a relatively recent phenomenon. With people living longer there is a growing population of elderly people who will require assistance with their daily lives. However, a lack of available carers means we could have an adult-care crisis in the near future. Japan, for example, is facing a predicted shortfall of 370,000 caregivers by 2025.

而机器人看护则相对较晚。随着人们寿命的增长,越来越多的老年人需要日常生活方面的帮助。但由于护工数量不足,可能很快就要面临成人看护的危机。譬如日本预计到2025年护工缺口将达37万。

Whilst the current assistive technologies are still a far cry from a future where our meals cooked for us and all household our chores are completed for us, they offer a tantalising glimpse of a possible future.

现在的辅助科技工具,距离我们不用做饭、不做家务的日子还相距甚远,但能让我们一窥那令人向往的未来生活。

Most robots are currently extensively used in heavy industry and manufacturing, where dangerous and repetitive tasks are routinely undertaken by automated systems. However, these heavy-duty industrial robots are not designed to operate in the presence of people, as they move fast and are made from hard materials, which could potentially cause injuries.

目前大多数机器人主要用于重工业和制造业,危险及重复性的工作通常会交给自动化系统来完成。但这些重型的工业机器人在设计时,并不包含会在有人的情况下工作。它们的移动速度很快,材料坚硬,可能会伤到人。

Current collaborative robots, or cobots as they are otherwise known, are made with rigid joints and links. When working in close proximity to humans, their speed is inhibited to ensure they can safely interact with people.

而现有的协作机器人(又称cobot),是由刚性关节和连杆组成的。近距离为人类工作时会限制它们的速度,以确保人的安全。

However, the next generation of collaborative robots will be made from softer materials, such as rubber, silicon or fabric. “These robots are inherently safe due to the material properties they are made of,” says Helge Wurdemann, a roboticist at University College London. “These types of soft, stiffness-controllable robots are promising to achieve the accuracy and repeatability of current collaborative robots and at the same time ensure safe interaction with humans.”

新一代的协作机器人将采用较为柔软的材料,譬如橡胶、硅以及布料。伦敦大学学院的机器人专家伍德曼(Helge Wurdemann)表示:“这些机器人因为材料的缘故本身就很安全,这种质软且可以调控硬度的机器人,未来很有可能替代现有的协作机器人去完成精准的重复性工作,并同时确保与人类的安全互动。”

One of the greatest challenges is that the navigation systems for human-interactive robots are still not yet fully developed. They work, to a degree, but can easily become confused, such as with robotic vacuum cleaners failing to return to their charging base. In simple laboratory conditions, robots can determine the best route to take, but a real-life environment, such as a home filled with tables, chairs and general clutter, is very different.

其中一项最大的挑战是,让机器人能与人类交互的导航系统目前还有待完善。机器人能做一部分工作,但很容易混乱,譬如吸尘器机器人无法回到充电的基座。在简单的实验室环境下,机器人能够找到最佳路径,但现实中就很难了,譬如摆满了桌椅或是乱七八糟的房间。

“Many of these algorithms have been developed in the laboratory and are relatively simple compared to the level of clutter and human activity within a real home,” explains Nicola Bellotto, a computer scientist at University of Lincoln and the technical manager of Enrichme, a project attempting to build robots to help care for and monitor the elderly.

林肯大学的计算机科学家贝洛托(Nicola Belloto)解释说:“许多算法都是在实验室里得出的,跟真实情况下房间里的杂乱程度和人类活动相比都相对简单。”贝洛托同时也是Enrichme项目的技术总监,该项目正在研发能够照看及监护老年人的机器人。

Robots also struggle with changes of surface and, like the dreaded Daleks from Doctor Who, stairs. In 2017 an autonomous security robot in Washington DC drowned itself after falling down steps into an office fountain. Operating safely in the presence of children and animals can also be a challenge, as demonstrated in 2016 when a security robot ran over a toddler at a shopping centre in Silicon Valley after the child ran towards it.

机器人面临的另一项挑战是地面的变化,以及台阶,譬如《神秘博士》(Doctor Who)中恐怖的机器人戴里克(Daleks)。2017年,华盛顿特区一个全自动安保机器人就绊了几步跌进了它工作区域的喷水池。有儿童和动物的时候,如何安全工作也是个难题。2016年,在硅谷的一家商场,一名幼童跑到了安保机器人面前,结果机器人把孩子撞倒了。

Coordination of movement in response to sensor information is another challenge in robotics, which in turns affects a robot’s ability to interact with the environment. Robots can struggle with tasks that most humans, and even dogs, would find quite simple, such as catching a ball.

根据传感器接收到的信息来调整动作也是机器人的一大课题,反过来也会影响机器人与环境交互的能力。对人甚至对狗都小菜一碟的事,对机器人也会有难度,譬如接球。

This is due to the incredible number of factors that need to be considered, all of which can overwhelm an autonomous system and cause errors to occur. “From a machine-learning perspective, most of the decisions are easier to make than they are to carry out for a robot,” says Diane Cook co-director of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at Washington State University. “Some tasks that are mentally challenging for humans are simpler for robots, whilst some of the simple movements for humans are quite challenging for robots.”

因为需要考虑的因素有很多,个个都能让自动系统无所适从,发生错误。华盛顿州立大学(Washington State University)人工智能实验室的主任库克(Diane Cook)说:“从机器学习的角度来说,机器人做决定要比执行起来更容易。一些人类难以做出的判断机器人会很容易,而一些人类觉得简单易做的事情机器人却很困难。”

There is also the question of whether we want our robotic carers to look human. There is the concept of the uncanny valley – where objects that almost, but not quite, mimic human form can deter people from using them. Instead, like the robotic vacuum cleaners in our homes, robots could be aesthetically designed around their function.

还有一个问题在于,我们想不想让机器人看护长得像人类。在“恐怖谷”理论中,人会拒绝使用不是人类但已经非常近似人类的东西。我们也可以只是围绕机器人的功能在设计上美化它,譬如美化家用的吸尘器机器人。

“The more it looks like a human, the more that person receiving the care is going to resist the care provided by the robot,” says Cook. “A robot is only useful if the person being cared for accepts it.”

库克表示:“机器人的外观越像人,被照顾的人就会越抗拒。只有当照顾对象接受时,机器人才有价值。”

In some cases, a non-humanoid robot can be exactly what is needed. Robotic animals, such as Paro, are starting to be used as pets in care homes that do not allow animals or as additional companions for people suffering from dementia or have learning difficulties.

有时就是需要机器人的样子不像人类。禁止饲养宠物的护理中心已经开始使用动物机器人,譬如海豹机器人帕罗(Paro),它们也可以为痴呆患者或者有学习障碍的人提供多一重陪伴。

Many modern-day robots are function-specific, such as robotic vacuum cleaners, rather than being multi-functional mechanoids. Designing a robotic system to fulfil multiple functions can be challenging, especially if their tasks are not related. In the near-future at least, we are most likely to have multiple robot carers, all designed for different functions. However, this raises the problem of where would we store them all when they are not being used.

现在许多机器人都有特定的功能,而非多功能,譬如吸尘器机器人。设计多功能机器人系统难度很大,尤其是当它们的功能不相关时则难度更大。至少在近期,最有可能出现的是功能各异的机器人看护。但问题又来了,不用的时候把它们往哪儿放?

There have also been recent developments in integrating smart home technology with robotic systems, to create homes with embedded automated systems. One such example is Chiron; a research project to develop a ceiling-mounted rail system that would allow an assistive robot to travel from room to room, using room-specific adapters for the environment they are in.

近来也开始将智能家居科技与机器人系统相结合,让家中也有了自动化系统。其中一个研发项目名为凯龙(Chiron),可以让辅助型机器人利用所在房间特有的适配器,通过天花板上的轨道系统在不同房间移动。

Given the inherent navigational and mobility challenges facing an autonomous robot in a home environment, this rail-mounted system offers a glimpse of how carer robots could be integrated into the very fabric of our homes. However, this system also presents its own challenges.

自主机器人在导航以及移动方面的问题,令它难以在家庭环境中使用,但这种轨道系统让我们看到,将来有可能通过轨道在家里使用机器人看护。但这个系统本身也面临挑战。

To enable a ceiling mounted rail-network, significant changes to the home would be required before the robot could operate there. Of course, bespoke care homes could be built with the rail system already installed. However, the significant costs that will come with rail-based installations would be a massive challenge to overcome.

要想使用天花板轨道让机器人在家里工作,首先要对屋子进行一番大改造。护理中心当然可以在建造时就安装这个系统,但所需的巨额花费也是个大问题。

Ultimately, carer robots will augment rather than replace human carers, as robotics could never replicate the companionship that comes from a flesh-and-blood carer. Not even the most advanced simulation of a person by a robot could truly mimic a human being.

最终,机器人看护会增加,但不会取代人,一个有血有肉的看护所给予的陪伴是它们永远无法做到的。就算是最先进的机器人最高级的模仿,机器人也无法真正代替人类。

Instead, having assistive technologies perform the physically demanding tasks would allow carers to operate more effectively. “Robots do not necessarily replace people’s jobs, but they can augment the way they work,” says Helen Dickinson, an expert in public services at the University of New South Wales. “It isn’t just passing on the most physical jobs, although there certainly is interest in having robots do tasks that require patience and repetition, where people get run down and compassion fatigue can be a factor.”

不过,把对体力要求较高的工作交给辅助型科技去做,可以让护工更有效的工作。新南威尔士大学(University of New South Wales)公共服务方面的专家狄金森(Helen Dickinson)说:“机器人不一定会取代人的工作,但可以提升人的工作方式。我们不仅可以把最繁重的体力活动交给机器人,也可以让它们去做那些需要耐心的重复性工作,这明显有好处,因为人会疲倦,也有可能出现同情疲劳。”

It is entirely possible that we will, one day, have assistive technologies in the home, but the more advanced systems will not be here for some time, or how they are portrayed in fiction. Instead, our homes themselves could become our carers, with robotic units becoming an extension of the home. Thus, the robot uprising could be reduced to them simply refusing to do the dishes.

将来家中完全有可能出现辅助型科技,但短时间内还不会有更先进的系统,也不会像科幻小说里写的那样。未来,我们的家本身可能就是我们的看护者,机器人装置只是家的扩展。机器人要抗议可能只是不洗盘子而已。
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