People seem to enjoy watching robots and cartoon characters move about, and usually don't mind seeing other humans going through their daily motions, but when it comes to artificial creations that are made to look very human ... they're not always so popular. Although we tend to like animated objects or images that look kind of
like real people, once they reach a certain level of realism, they just become spooky. This threshold is known as the "uncanny valley," and an international team of researchers recently set out to determine just what it is about our brains that causes it to occur.
Japanese company Sanyo Homes has introduced its MIRAI SANZO Android-based robot for the Japanese market. It connects to external networked devices, and allows them to be controlled via voice commands or remotely, through a smartphone. This is yet another device which proves that Google's Android OS has applications beyond its original smartphone purpose.
Following lab evaluation tests
, Lockheed Martin’s ruggedized HULC
(Human Universal Load Carrier) robotic exoskeleton is now undergoing biomechanical testing at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center in Natick, Massachusetts. The biomechanical testing will assess the effectiveness of the HULC in improving the endurance and reducing the risk of injury to soldiers by comparing the performance of soldiers carrying identical loads, both with and without the device.
Tokyo's Showa University has unveiled its latest robotic dental patient. The University engaged robotics company Tmsuk to manufacture the realistic bot which is designed to simulate a number of typical patient gestures and responses, allowing dental students to experience what it's like to work with a real patient.
Providing robots with sensory inputs is one of the keys to the development of more capable and useful machines. Sight and hearing are the most common senses bestowed upon our mechanical friends (perhaps soon to be foes?), but even taste
and smell have got a look in. With the sense of touch so important to human beings, there have also been a number of efforts to give robots the sense of touch so they can better navigate and interact with their environments. The latest attempt to create a touchy feely robot comes from the Technical University Munich (TUM) where researchers have produced small hexagonal plates, which when joined together, form a sensitive skin.
When we think of robots, we tend to think of clean, antiseptic automatons that don’t suffer from yucky things like halitosis, flatulence or body odor ... unlike us humans. According to London designer Kevin Grennan, however, this difference alienates us from robots, and will keep us from ever fully accepting them as anything other than machines. His solution? Robots that secret human odors, in situations in which people
would secrete those odors. While some of his odor-secreting devices are purely conceptual, he has produced a working model of at least one – a sweating robotic armpit.
Autonomous robotic devices are certainly capable of some impressive feats, but as is the case with people, sometimes large groups can accomplish what an individual or a small group can’t. Research projects such as BAE Systems’ MAST
program recognize this potential, and are investigating ways in which entire swarms
of small robots could work together. The problem is, given how much time and money goes into the creation of a typical autonomous robot, it’s difficult to find a swarm of them to experiment upon – researchers often have to use computer simulations, or do their tests with a small group of robots, then scale up the results. That’s where Harvard University’s Kilobot project comes into play. It incorporates tiny swarming robots that take just five minutes to build, and that are worth about US$14 each.
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.
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.
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.