Telecomunicaciones y tecnologia

Walter Martinez, a Latino in a world of androids

Los Angeles, Sep 30 (EFE).- When Honduras-born Walter Martinez was 10 years old he was already cannibalizing toys and old TV sets for parts to assemble new Frankenstein-type creatures in whose tangle of circuits beat the dream of building robots.

Martinez's avocation was clear since he first saw the movie "Star Wars."

Now, at 42, Martinez is a system analyst and professor of electrical engineering at California State University, Long Beach, where he teaches the secrets of robotics.

"Once you learn how a robot works you know how all robots work," he told Efe in an interview conducted in a classroom full of machines and robots, in different stages of development, showing how far we are from the day when androids such as those in the movies actually walk on the streets.

"The software is quite ahead of the hardware," Martinez said as he switched on several of prototypes able to make gestures, blink their "eyebrows" and move around.

The current level of technology, he said, is closer to the 2013 movie "Her," about a man who falls in love with an operating system, than to the 2004 film "I, Robot," where android servants rebel against their human masters.

Robots with consciousness remain beyond our capabilities, according to Martinez, who said the best that can be done is to program an android to simulate consciousness.

"The human brain is much more complex," he said.

Martinez, since 2011 president of the South California Robotics Society, was the robotics expert for the movie "Transformers: Age of Extinction."

"Transformers" and "Star Wars" happen in other galaxies but Martinez believes there will be a time on Earth when companion robots will be usual, especially for seniors such as in the movie "Robot & Frank."

There is plenty of interest in Japan in developing this kind of android to assist the country's aging population, Martinez said, pointing to Honda's Asimo prototype.

"It is important that artificial intelligence acquires a body," he said in a reference to voice assistants such as those in Apple smartphones.

"A major problem with portable robots is the duration of the battery," he said. "If a robot's battery lasts for just 20 minutes of conversation people will get bored."

To help convey his passion for robotics to everyone Martinez has developed a kit that allows adults and children 10 years of age to build their autonomous robots without much previous knowledge.

Martinez's system is for sale with a tag price of $200 on his Web site, RoboticsCity.com, and it is being tested by Cape Verde University, and he expects to spread the word across Latin America starting with contacts in Honduras.

"Using this technology one learns, more or less, what is used in the electric Tesla cars," he said. "Everything is interconnected."

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