Researchers from MIT, Harvard and Seoul National University are working on an autonomous wormbot that moves across a surface by contracting nickel-titanium body segments via running currents. Made of soft materials, you can even step on Meshworm or give it a couple of hammer hits and it just keeps on trucking slithering. The project was funded by DARPA and future applications may include navigating in rough terrain or tight places.
Remember AFFETTO, the creepy baby robot head? Let's throw a creepier party as his creators from Osaka University have just given him a torso. He will still be used in behavioral experiments as his 22 pneumatic actuators can provide a certain amount of flexibility. Future generations should include lifelike skin and body movements, a real body temperature and perhaps the ability to smell. Legs would be good, too. The ultimate goal here is to build a "realistic child robot with a muscle-skeletal system" or what we like to call a definite oxymoron.
iRobot teamed with InTouch Health to produce the latest in medical robotics dubbed RP-Vita. The doctorbot is mostly an assistant at this stage and is capable of accessing medical files and making diagnoses. Controlled with an iPad control interface and joystick, it can use its electronic stethoscope to check out the patient. Not much human contact here unless they equip it with a friendlier telepresence on its screen.
AndyVision is the pet project of Priva Narasimhan and a team from Carnegie Mellon University that may change the way retail business operates. Currently, humans do most of the stocking of shelves and often customers cannot find what they really want because of misplacement. The hoody-clad robot solves this dilemma by traveling down aisles, and combines video camera imaging with algorithms to find items. The data is then sent to a large planogram for customer usage.
AndyVision is still at the prototype stage but is part of Intel Science and Technology Center's Retail 2020 project that is partnered with the CMU Bookstore. Perhaps someday he and other robots can assist shoppers and do many of the mundane tasks like folding clothing and assisting with owners' manuals. And if you have ever had to work an overnighter in retail pre-holiday, you know this is a very good idea that could be made so much better.
Chiba University's Nonami Group have been developing mini drones that can fly in formation. The quadcopters do this with cameras that capture certain markers on the ground then sends the images back to the host computer. Position and attitude are calculated fast enough to prevent collision. Future applications could include disaster inspection, volcanic eruptions and power line inspection.
Ishakawa Oku's physics lab at the University of Tokyo built a robot that plays Rock, Paper, Scissors and never loses. It can do this because there is a high-speed camera in the room that captures and analyzes the competitor's wrist angle so it knows the next move. It takes one millisecond to do that, much faster than a human can. The team believes it to be a learning tool that can be used in the area of cooperation between the two species. Before that day comes, maybe it can be taught the much cooler Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock.
A tactile sensor has been developed by a team from USC's Viterbi School of Engineering. The researchers came up with a new algorithm that is similar to human touch based on exploratory movements from prior experience. The finger-sized Bio-Tac sensor has soft skin that covers liquid and a small hydrophone that detects vibrations to recognize textures while discerning from different temperatures. After testing, the Fishel-built fingerbot could identify randomly selected material with an incredible 95% accuracy.
Researchers from the University of Hertfordshire in the UK believe that a robot can learn language just as infants do. They built DeeChee, a 3 foot tall humanoid that was able to produce any English syllable, but no words. Because he (although considered gender neutral,) was programmed to recognize encouragement, it helped him to learn to form words. Humans were used to teach DeeChee simple words for shapes and colors as they would any infant.
Study leader Catherine Lyon claims that part of the difficulty is that because some connective words like "with" or "of" are spoken in different ways, they are more difficult to recognize, while concrete words, like nouns or colors, almost always come up the same.
The U.S. Air Force's X-37B returned to Earth this past Saturday after being in orbit for over 15 months. Originally part of NASA as an experimental project, when funding ran out DARPA got custody. They passed it on to the Air Force in 2006. The robotic plane, aka Orbital Test Vehicle-2, performed "on-orbit experiments" and there is much speculation as to why its purpose is so hush-hush.
Some say it could be a dreaded space weapon while others believe it might be used for spying. The AF contends that it is simply "to put experiments in space and bring them back and check out the technologies,"
We would like to think it had a much more exotic part in the grand scheme of things, such as alien communication or practicing for the time when robotic takeover forces us to leave our mother Earth. Regardless of its usage, the next flight should be later this year when the first X-37B takes the OTV-1 into the final frontier.
UC Berkeley scientists have been studying cockroaches' methods of escape. After studying one under a to camera they realized its hind legs grab the surface so that it can swing itself under a ledge, similar to the way that lizards with toenails do it. They then came up with a 6-legged robot named DASH (Dynamic Autonomous Sprawled Hexapod) with Velcro strips. They also gave it the insect's ability to rapidly run in reverse. The research is being studied for both military applications and rescue operations.