BBC World News Horizons examines the impact of robots on society, business and humankind

It was amazing to see this robot with its intelligence go into an area where we would normally have to risk our lives to survey."Lloyd Ayers, Chief, Philadelphia Fire Department
Date: 24.05.2012     Last updated: 18.03.2014 at 18.07
Category: BBC World News
In the eighth episode of the series, Horizons presenters Adam Shaw and Saima Mohsin head to Boston, Massachusetts; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Eindhoven, the Netherlands to experience the latest advances in robotics.

On the East Coast of the United States, an army of autonomous mobile robots is helping some of the biggest names in retail fulfill millions of customer orders with a new approach that could revolutionise distribution and warehouse industries. At Quiet Logistics near Boston, Adam meets Mick Mountz, CEO of Kiva Systems to find out how their technology takes a different approach to the traditional large-scale automated storage and retrieval processes by re-thinking the way a warehouse is organised and run.

Mick Mountz, CEO Kiva Systems said: “30 years ago you had automated guided vehicles that would go around a warehouse from point A to point B and back again. Our approach was to take low cost mobile robots, use thousands of them and make everything multipoint, from anywhere to anywhere. This quickly led to the idea what if all the products could effectively walk and talk on their own? We thought we could make work two to four times more productive, but some of our customers claim they’ve been able to achieve up to ten times the pick orders in the same time.”

Recently, it was announced that Amazon.com has agreed a deal to purchase all of the outstanding stock in Kiva Systems.

Saima Mohsin travels to The Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands to meet the team behind a revolutionary prototype that could radically change the future of surgery. Researchers have created a device that allows surgeons to feel the actual force and sensitivity of their movements, which is particularly beneficial in procedures involving repairs to the retina, which require great precision. Saima hears how the technology could be found in hospital operating theatres within the next five years.

Professor Maarten Steinbuch, Eindhoven University of Technology said: “We have been developing a robot to perform a very difficult operation at the back side of the eye. At the moment the surgeon hardly feels any forces because the forces are so low. But with our robot you can actually measure the force at the tip of an instrument, you can amplify that force to the surgeon and for the first time ever the surgeon actually feels the forces he applies to the eye. Moreover, we can scale movements so we can now make more precise operations than ever before.”

Adam also visits the Philadelphia Fire Department to see a demonstration of a prototype aerial mapping robot, which could benefit emergency response teams working in hazardous locations without putting lives at risk. Created by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, the Quadrocopter autonomously navigates unfamiliar environments creating a three-dimensional map as it travels.

Lloyd Ayers, Chief Philadelphia Fire Department said: “It was amazing to see this robot with its intelligence go into an area where we would normally have to risk our lives to survey. This robot can feed back all the information, so while we’re preparing and going in we’re actually getting the scenarios we need to navigate through that environment safely. ”

Jessica Culshaw - Jessica.Culshaw@bbc.co.uk | +44 20 843 33340