Robotics research is moving along at such a fast pace that it can be difficult to spot the major milestones of innovation in the technology as they go by. One significant step forward is in evidence at MIT in the form of Hermes. Physically it's all robot, but its actions and reflexes are controlled by a human being.
The whiskers that help rats find their way around dingy sewers has inspired a tactile sensor that could be used for navigating all manner of dark conditions. Scientists have developed a device capable of generating images of obscured environments by monitoring both air and fluid flow, and which could find its way into biomedical applications.
Last June, a creation known as hitchBOT
successfully hitch-hiked its way across Canada. It has since also
traversed Germany. This July, its team decided to see how it would make
out in the US. Well, it lasted just over two weeks, until it was found destroyed in Philadelphia late last week.
One truism of nuclear reactors is that you really don't want to be next to one. Unfortunately, reactor cores need to be inspected and maintained, which means teams of workers going inside the containment vessel. It's an operation that's not only hazardous, but expensive and time consuming. In an effort to make such inspections safer, cheaper, and faster, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy has developed the Stinger; a free-swimming, remote-controlled robot that replaces humans for cleaning and inspecting reactor vessels.
It's widely believed that we're in the middle of a robotics revolution, but at this stage robots are still largely confined to cages doing tasks that don't require a lot of intelligence or interaction with us humans. We spoke with John Lizzi, Manager of the Distributed Intelligent Systems Laboratory at GE Global Research, about General Electric's approach to the future of robotics – specifically the future of what the company calls "service robotics," where robot apprentices will work closely with humans and take over many of the dull, dirty and dangerous jobs of today.
The Future of Life Institute has presented an open letter signed by over 1,000 robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) researchers urging the United Nations to impose a ban on the development of weaponized AI with the capability to target and kill without meaningful human intervention. The letter was presented at the 2015 International Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI), and is backed with the endorsements of a number of prominent scientists and industry leaders, including Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, Steve Wozniak, and Noam Chomsky.
A new hotel that is staffed with robots has opened in Japan. The Henn-na
Hotel (which translates as "Strange Hotel"), is part of the Huis Ten
Bosch theme park complex in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture. Guests can also
access their rooms via face-recognition, and are able to control room
amenities via tablets.
developed for ESA's next generation of ExoMars rover could soon be put
to work saving lives in a more terrestrial setting. GMV, an ESA
partner in rover development, is designing a robot to be used in the
gas and oil industry. It's a move which could mitigate some of the
human risk inherent with labor in the sector.
There's no shortage of robot-based toys out there which are claimed to be both fun, and teach your budding young roboticist the basics of programming. Following in the digital footsteps of Play-i, Kibo and Hackaball, is Vortex, a friendly Arduino-based bot that can connect to iOS and Android devices, play games, and be programmed by children as young as six-years-old.
We may still be some way from having lifelike humanoid robot helpers,
but there's no doubt robots are getting more helpful, friendly and
domesticated. Blue Frog Robotics' new Buddy robot is designed to be an
affordable family companion. It can help with communications, home
security, edutainment and even elder care.