Top 5 Robotics Challenges Present in ‘Passengers’

In the News
January 04, 2017

Passengers is the latest space adventure movie to hit theaters. It makes heavy use of robots and artificial intelligence to tell its story.

While Passengers is set in the future, it shows us the robotics challenges that innovators and businesses face today.

For instance, the constant interplay between the human characters and robots sheds light on what needs to be accomplished for robots and AI to coexist with mankind in different settings.

Note: The following discussion contains some “spoilers” about Passengers‘ plot.

Business Takeaways:

  • The science fiction film Passengers shows several robotics challenges that companies need to address in areas such as multi-agent robots and data collection and sharing.
  • A major challenge is in teaching robots concepts that humans easily understand, like trust. If robots do not understand what trust is, how can humans feel comfortable or safe around them?
  • There has been little discussion so far of how to track progress of robots operating in settings they were not designed for, such as aerial surveillance drones equipped with arms and being applied to harvest fruits and vegetables.

Here are five of these challenges:

Multi-agent robots

The main story in Passengers is that something has happened to the starship Avalon, causing all kinds of strange things to take place onboard. One of these unexplained occurrences is the constant breakdown of robots around the main human characters, including robots slamming into walls or running off ledges.

Because something has happened to the colonization vessel, part of the interstellar ship’s system is offline. This is causing other systems to “pick up the load” and is in turn causing robots around the ship to malfunction.

This is the first of the robotics challenges relevant to real life. Should robots working together be connected to a central system, or should they operate with preset data and instructions? How do you ensure that robots, be it aerial drones, industrial arms, or logistics robots, can work together if the main software connecting them is failing?

Limited human connection

As protagonists Jim Preston and Aurora Lane (played by Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, respectively) realize that they are the only people conscious on the Avalon, they interact with the only other human-looking entity on-board, a humanoid robot called Arthur (Michael Sheen).

While Arthur is intelligent, it becomes apparent that he cannot understand the “grayness” of human interaction. Arthur processes everything through a black-and-white filter, resulting in problems between...

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