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Making the World Robot-Ready

Posted by Josh Rothman  August 10, 2011 12:27 PM

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Our manufactured world is saturated with machine-readable symbols. Some happen to be readable by human beings (serial numbers, say), while others are machine-only (barcodes, magnetic strips, RFID tags). According to Matt Jones, a designer and engineer at the consulting firm BERG, we're about to see those symbols get larger in scale. As robots become more commonplace, we'll need to build a robot-readable world to help them get around and understand what they're seeing.

Robots don't see the world the same way we do: Their vision systems often pick out different sorts of details, and even see in different wavelengths. In some ways, robot vision is more detailed than ours; in others, it's sketchier. It's full of "strange opportunities and constraints": infra-red on the one hand, problems with depth perception on the other.

So, as more and more robots make it out into the real world, it's inevitable that technologists will adopt a "deliberate design approach that makes use of the plasticity and adaptability of humans to meet computers (more than) half way." The result will be a built environment designed to communicate information to computers, in subtle and even aesthetic ways, often below the radar of human attention. See more images and read the rest of Jones' article at BERG's blog.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.

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