It may sound like the premise for the latest Pixar movie, but it’s actually happening – four small autonomous aquatic robots have embarked on a 60,000-kilometer (37,000-mile) journey across the Pacific ocean. The Wave Gliders, built by California-based Liquid Robotics, left San Francisco last Thursday. All four will travel together to Hawaii, at which point they will split into two pairs – one of those pairs will proceed to Australia, with the other heading for Japan. Called PacX (for “Pacific Crossing”), the project will constitute the longest voyage ever completed by an unmanned ocean vessel.
Guide dogs for the visually impaired provide an important service and help provide a welcome sense of autonomy to physically-challenged individuals. Unfortunately, the highly-skilled canines require about US$30,000 in training over several months, and always seem to be in short supply. The growing demand for these specialized animal companions gave a group of engineers from Japan's NSK corporation and the University of Electro-Communications just the impetus they needed to design a mechanical solution, and the robotic guide dog was born.
Robotic snakes are - perhaps surprisingly - nothing all that new. In the past several years, we've seen ones designed to swim through debris
, help out at construction sites
, perform surveillance
, and inspect the inside of pipes
. People seem to be captivated by the little guys, which begs the question: has an artist ever made one? If they did, it would have to stand out from its more utilitarian counterparts, perhaps by being enormous and incorporating colored lights. Evoking prehistory wouldn't hurt, either. Well, it turns out that there is
a creation that ticks all those boxes. It's time to meet Titanoboa.
Fast as the FastRunner may become, it will never be able to escape the comparison to an ostrich. One day, thanks to a joint effort by MIT and the Florida Institute of Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC), this bipedal sprinting robot is going to assume its rightful place in the DARPA-funded robotic zoo, right next to the robotic cheetah
and the mule-like BigDog
. Thanks to an innovative, self-stabilizing leg design, the movements of this flightless robotic bird are going to be not only very efficient, but also extremely fast. The legs are already capable of hitting 27 mph (43.4 km/h), matching the fastest of humans. The researchers hope to see FastRunner reach speeds of up to 50 mph (80.4 km/h). That, plus the ability to negotiate fairly rough, uneven terrain, potentially makes it a force to be reckoned with, on the battlefield and elsewhere.
Engineered Arts Ltd.'s Robothespian is probably one of the first professional robotic actors who made it into the real world (sorry, T-1000). Its elegant movements, extraordinary body language and emotion-conveying skills make it a great communicator. It may not be capable of helping the elderly
, it's not nearly as agile and athletic as Boston Dynamics' PETMAN
, and it's unlikely to be of any use during eye surgery
. But that's OK. Robothespian is an artist. A robot burdened with the task of exploring the ephemeral territory of the arts and claiming it for his robotic brethren. And it seems it is extremely well equipped to get the job done.
Ask anyone what their favorite real-life robot is, and chances are the majority will say “That one made by Honda, that looks like an astronaut.” They will be referring, of course, to ASIMO
. The self-balancing, walking bipedal robot is actually the latest in a long line of similar Honda robots, that began in 1986 with one named EO. The company has also created several versions of ASIMO itself, along with multiple copies of each, to the point that there are currently over 100 individual ASIMO robots in existence. Well, as of today, none of those can any longer be considered state-of-the-art. The newly-named Honda Robotics group has unveiled the latest and greatest ASIMO, that sports several new features over its predecessors – including the ability to act autonomously.
Developing true robot surrogates that allow you to be in two places at once means duplicating all of our movements and senses in machine form. Given you can now make a video call on your phone, it's fair to say we have the sight and sound aspects pretty well covered, but the challenge of adding touch to the equation is formidable. The TELESAR V Robot Avatar shows just how far we've come in turning into telepresence into telexistence - it's a humanoid remotely controlled robot that boasts a wide range of movement along with the ability to transmit sight, hearing and
touch sensations to its operator via a set of sensors and 3D head mounted display.
While great strides have been made in the development of humanoid robots, such as Honda's ASIMO
, giving robots a human face with natural expressions and movement has proven a difficult task. While some look to create lifelike faces and expressions
with motors under artificial skin replicating the function of facial muscles, German and Japanese researchers have joined forces to come up with a different solution called Mask-bot that sees a 3D image of a human face projected onto the back of a plastic mask.
The world's industrial robotics industry will get considerably larger in the near future as Taiwan-registered Hon Hai Precision Industry Co (best known as Foxconn) has announced plans to begin building industrial robots. Its initial plans of building one million industrial robots for its own purposes will nearly double the number of industrial robots in the world (currently The International Federation of Robotics
puts that number at 1,095,000). Foxconn is best known as the largest exporter in China, the assembler/manufacturer of Apple's iPad and iPhone and for the extraordinarily high suicide rate of its employees.
When it comes to deciding on a form of locomotion for their creations, roboticists have plenty of options to choose from. While many go for the tried and tested tank-like tracks or wheels
, nature is also a veritable treasure trove of inspiration. That's just where Fraunhofer researchers have turned with a new eight-legged robot modeled on the same principle that moves spider legs. Not only does the design give the spiderbot the agility and stability of real spiders when getting around on the ground, it also features special joints that allow it to jump.