Highlights from the 2014 LA Auto Show

Robotics

UPenn's XRL robot jumping and grabbing the edge of a cliff five times its own height (Phot...

Most land-dwelling animals with skeletons (exo or endo) have the ability to jump. It is of particular importance to survival, as running primarily consists of a long series of jumps. Without the ability to jump, a robot's freedom to move around is limited, something that is particularly true of smaller robots for which even relatively narrow trenches or low walls can prove too much of an obstacle. A robotics group at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) has taught a six-legged crawling robot to jump, giving it remarkable acrobatic capabilities.  Read More

Hyundai Heavy Industries tests out its new miniature robotic welding arm

Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI), which lays claim to being the largest shipbuilding company in the world, says it has developed a miniature welding robot that can be easily transported by a worker and affixed to a ship using magnets. The small, portable robot is expected to increase worker productivity two to threefold.  Read More

Home-Exploring Robot Butler (HERB) being trained to identify household objects

One of the major anticipated applications for robots is in care for the elderly and helping them with daily tasks. This means that robots have got to adapt to human lifestyles, not the other way around, because granny can’t be expected to program the robot or rearrange her house to suit the machine’s limitations. The Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Institute’s Lifelong Robotic Object Discovery (LROD) project aims to address this by developing ways to use visual and non-visual data to help robots to identify and pick up objects so they can work in a normal human environment without supervision.  Read More

Seahorse tails are prehensile, like a monkey's (Photo: shellac)

The meaning of the word biomimicry is being devalued and inflated, to the point that any technology or design with the vaguest resemblance to something in the natural world tends to have the word unthinkingly applied to it. PR people in the automotive and architectural fields are now particularly fond of the word. So it's refreshing to be able to report on some research that has taken a detailed look at a natural phenomenon, the armor of a seahorse, and thought about how it might be applied in the field of robotics. The researchers think a similar structure of sliding plates could be used to improve robot arms used for underwater exploration and bomb disposal.  Read More

The SmartMow development platform

RobotLabs has launched a KickStarter campaign to develop a robot lawnmower. Though that may not sound particularly new, the company claims other automated lawnmowers aren't true robots because they don't adhere to Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics. In other words, they're not safe enough, RobotLabs claims. RobotLabs claims its SmartMow is different, shutting down almost instantaneously when people or animals get close.  Read More

Honda's robotics technology tested in a mock home at the Miraiken (National Museum of Emer...

With one in five Japanese citizens now aged 65 or older, various robotics technologies are being developed to prolong independent living and improve quality of life at home. The main alternative to nursing homes and hospitals would be smart homes designed around the needs of the elderly. Earlier this week, Honda announced that it will test some of its life support robots in a mock household environment at the Future Life Showroom, in Sekisui House's brand new SUMUFUMU Lab.  Read More

Italian researchers have developed a robot that can be taught to build an IKEA table (Phot...

Teaching a robot how to deal with real-world problems is a challenging task. There has been much progress in building robots that can precisely repeat individual tasks with a level of speed and accuracy impossible for human craftspeople. But there are many more tasks that could be done if robots could be supplied with even a limited amount of judgement. A robotics group led by Professor Sylvain Calinon at the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) is making progress in solving this problem.  Read More

The Kidswalker NT is a new and improved version of Sakakibara-Kikai's gasoline-powered rob...

Kids these days have it made. Case in point: Sakakibara-Kikai's latest creation, the Kidswalker NT, a miniature gasoline-powered exoskeleton that wouldn't look out of place in a Saturday morning cartoon. The original Kidswalker, unveiled in 2010, was designed to placate youngsters who demanded a ride in the company's much larger (and potentially more dangerous) Landwalker. As cool as it was, the Kidswalker has now been upgraded with additional features.  Read More

COMAN stays on its feet despite being pushed around by its human masters

We've seen robots optimized for stability before, but where, for example, Dr. Guero's modified Kondo KHR-3HV could withstand the odd gentle prod with a finger, the Italian Institute of Technology's COMAN is apparently made of sterner stuff, remaining vertical in the face of rather more determined jostling thanks to its sensor-equipped motorized joints.  Read More

Boston Dynamics' PETMAN stretches realistically to test the chemical protection suit

Back in late 2009 Boston Dynamics revealed it was working on a humanoid robot that would test protective clothing for the military. Having already amazed the world three years earlier with the lifelike balancing capabilities of its quadruped BigDog, this would be the company's first bipedal robot. It was an ambitious project, but it appears the work has paid off. The robot's eerily realistic body movements are made all the more convincing now that its mechanical nature is hidden by a chemical protection suit.  Read More

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