Highlights from the 2014 LA Auto Show

Robotics

Berkeley Bionics' eLEGS exoskeleton

At a press conference held this morning in San Francisco, California’s Berkeley Bionics unveiled its eLEGS exoskeleton. The computer-controlled device is designed to be worn by paraplegics, providing the power and support to get them out of their wheelchairs, into a standing posture, and walking – albeit with the aid of crutches. The two formerly wheelchair-bound “test pilots” in attendance did indeed use eLEGS to walk across the stage, in a slow-but-steady gait similar to that of full-time crutch-users.  Read More

AQUA and a diver with the AQUATablet

Several years ago, a joint team from Canada’s York, McGill and Dalhousie universities created AQUA, an underwater swimming robot. AQUA has six flippers, three on each side, and uses them to paddle through the water – it’s somewhat reminiscent of a platypus, albeit a six-legged one. Using a different set of appendages, it can even swim underwater, then proceed to sort of slap its way onto and across dry land. All of this is very cool in and of itself, but the little robot now has a new ability: it can receive commands visually underwater, thus freeing it from cumbersome umbilical cords.  Read More

The Kid's Walker: 1.6 metre bi-pedal exoskeleton for children

Six years back we covered the amazing 3.4 meter bi-pedal exoskeleton from Japan known as the Landwalker. Imagine our surprise when we found that its producer, machinery and robotics manufacturer Sakakibara-Kikai, has developed a smaller exoskeleton called the Kid's Walker. It didn't get that name because of its diminutive size either – the Kid's Walker is a functioning bi-pedal exoskeleton designed to be piloted by children!  Read More

The SMAVNET robot

Swarms of flying robots might sound a bit ominous to those of us anxiously awaiting the inevitable robot uprising that will see humanity drop a notch on the scale of planetary dominance. But swarms of flying robots are just what a project at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland is working to create. However, instead of keeping an eye on prisoners in a robot-run internment camp, the Swarming Micro Air Vehicle Network (SMAVNET) Project aims to develop robot swarms that can be deployed in disaster areas to rapidly create communication networks for rescuers.  Read More

Raytheon XOS 2: second generation exoskeleton

The widespread usage of exoskeletal robotics to augment human beings moved a step closer this week when Raytheon demonstrated its second generation Exoskeleton, the XOS 2. The new robotic suit (think of it as wearable robot guided by a human brain) is lighter, faster and stronger than the original proof-of-concept XOS 1, yet uses half the power. While Raytheon's development is primarily focused on military usage, exoskeletons for the mobility-impaired are already at market and industrial exoskeletons from Japan, Korea and Isreal are not far behind. One day in the not too distant future, one of these suits will enable us all to have superhuman strength, speed and endurance.  Read More

Test subject Bob Melia tries out the UCF robotic arm

Researchers have created a computer-controlled robotic arm designed to help wheelchair-bound people perform actions such as grasping and lifting objects. It has both an automatic mode, in which the computer identifies objects and figures out how to grasp them, and an option for full manual control. When physically-challenged people were selected to try the device out, the researchers were surprised to discover that most of them preferred going manual. It’s all about something called Flow.  Read More

Panasonic to show integrated wheelchair/bed and hair-washing robot

Though nearly every country in the world is ageing fast, Japan is at the front of the pack and in the next few decades will see its ratio of workers to retirees change from 7-1 to 2-1 – a scary prospect, particularly in a country that has always revered and respected the elderly. Robotic assistants offer a solution to this dilemma and Panasonic has just announced the development of two special-care robots; a robotic bed that also transforms into a wheelchair and a robotic hair washing assistant. Both are specifically designed to aid and give independence to the elderly and people with limited mobility.  Read More

The dancing swan has 19 different joints (Photo: Kerstin Gauffin)

A team at Mälardalen University, Sweden, has created a one meter-tall robotic swan that “performs” to the music of Swan Lake. The aim of the project is to explore the potential of robots to move people emotionally and mimic human expressions. So could this binary Baryshnikov represent the future of ballet?  Read More

Windoro stays vertical using neodymium magnets

Vacuum cleaning robots like the Roomba, LG Roboking, Electrolux Trilobyte and Neato XV-11 are already on dust patrol in countless homes around the world, saving people from untold hours of drudgery and aching backs. Now researchers at the Pohang Institute of Intelligent Robotics (PIRO) in South Korea have developed a robot that can handle the equally tedious – and often dangerous depending on which floor you live on – task of cleaning windows. Called Windoro, the robot consists of two separate modules that clean the window by spraying detergent and scrubbing away with a series of spinning pads.  Read More

The next generation of robotic pets may detect a person's emotions and respond accordingly...

Sony’s Aibo may be discontinued, but robotic pets of all shapes and sizes continue to stake a claim in the hearts of people around the world. Despite the apparent intelligence of some of these robot pets, their behavior and actions are usually nothing more than pre-programmed responses to stimuli – being patted in a particular location or responding to a voice command, for example. Real flesh and blood pets are much more complex in this regard, even discerning and responding to a person’s emotional state. Robotic pets could be headed in that direction, with researchers in Taiwan turning to neural networks to help them break the cycle of repetitive behavior in robot toys and endow them with almost emotional responses to interactions.  Read More

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