Although robots have started to creep into many homes in the form of robotic vacuum cleaners like the Roomba, many of us were hoping humanoid robots would be doing everything from preparing meals to doing the laundry by now. Unfortunately, it turns out that even tasks that we consider relatively simple can prove difficult for robots to replicate. Instead of attempting to program robots to devise a complete detailed plan before tacking a task, MIT scientists are programming them to apply the old adage of “one step at a time” so the robots break tasks down into smaller, easier to handle chunks. Read More
Imagine you're a firefighter arriving at a burning building, but you have no idea what the interior layout of that building is. Do you just enter, then risk your life by randomly walking up and down smokey hallways looking around? What would work better would be if someone or something could quickly map out the building first, then you could take that information and concentrate on getting directly where you need to go. That's the idea behind the U.S. Army's Micro Autonomous Systems and Technology (MAST) Collaborative Technology Alliance Program, which would see swarms of small rolling, hopping, crawling or flying robots working together on reconnaissance missions in civilian or military applications. Read More
Having two arms doesn't make you a juggler. The same principle applies in robotics where even the most dextrous of bots must be programmed to move according to a particular task. Input systems based on laser tracking are used in industrial robotics to achieve this, but Fraunhofer researchers are looking to streamline the process significantly with a device that uses inertial sensors to detect movements in free space. In other words, you can teach a robot new tricks just by showing it the required action. Read More
On July 6th of last year, Cornell University’s Ranger robot set a world record for untethered legged robots – it walked 14.3 miles (23.01 km) in about 11 hours on a single charge, with no hands-on assistance. The record had previously been held by Boston Dynamics’ BigDog, when it walked 12.8 miles (20.6 km). Both of those achievements were eclipsed last Monday (May 2nd), however, when Ranger beat its own record by walking a whopping 40.5 miles (65.18 km) on a single charge. Read More
Ah, the personal robot. While flying cars and jetpacks are now here – for some people – we still don't have robots that help us out around the house. However, maybe we soon could. This week, California's RoboDynamics introduced its Luna personal robot to the world. While the company currently isn't providing too much other information, her(?) makers are calling Luna "a breakthrough in robot design." Read More
When the sandfish lizard wishes to escape predators, it can actually dive beneath the surface of the sand, and then swim through it. Inspired by the sandfish, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have created an undulating robot that can likewise swim through a granular medium. While that medium has so far consisted of quarter-inch plastic balls in a lab setting, the team hopes that their robot – or one of its descendants – could someday be used to tunnel through debris to rescue earthquake victims. Read More
Services such as Skype have certainly made things a little easier for geographically-separated romantic partners, but when the tele-chat is over and it's time to say good night, sometimes a little air kiss blown towards a webcam just isn't enough. While there are products that cater for the long-distance physical needs of couples, those might be a bit much for everyday situations. There's also the KissPhone, which attempts to simulate the sensation of one partner's lips against the other's. Sitting between those two extremes, however, is the "Kiss Transmission Device" – a prototype gizmo designed to allow its users to virtually lock tongues. Read More
The millions of years of natural selection that lies behind the immense biodiversity found on our planet is fertile ground for keeping robotics research rolling ... in this case, literally. Some caterpillars in the Crambidae family have the amazing ability to spring into a wheel shape and roll away when it's time to get out of Dodge fast, and it is this talent that has inspired the creation of GoQBot – a 3-inch cm long soft-bodied robot that could provide a blueprint for versatile search and rescue robots of the future. Read More
Pretty much any time a patient is placed under a general anesthetic, a plastic endotracheal tube is inserted down their throat, in order to keep their airway open. The procedure is known as intubation, and has so far always been performed by hand. In this age of robotic surgery, however, it’s perhaps not surprising to hear that surgeons at Montreal’s McGill University Health Centre are now trying out a remote-control intubation system on human subjects. Read More
Standing around, sorting debris from construction or demolition projects for recycling ... it probably isn't anyone's idea of a good time. Given the risks posed by sharp or heavy objects and airborne particles, it's not a particularly safe way of making a buck either. That's where, perhaps someday soon, ZenRobotics' Recycler autonomous waste-sorting robot arm will come into play. Read More