China has joined the ranks of robot-run eateries with its Robot Restaurant in Harbin. We are talking full-scale serving here, from the Wall-E-esque greeter to the chefs to the servers. All told there are 20 of them um, employed. Each server bot follows a track on the floor and each has sensors for avoiding obstacles as well as a smattering of Chinese for conversation. Opened since June 2012, the robots were designed by the Harbin Haohai Robot Company with price tags ranging from $31,500 - $47,000 apiece. Not a bad deal since they will never require lunch breaks or tips.
Because many see them as pests in parks or other open meeting places, Randy Claussen created the Goosinator, a bright orange RC creature designed to keep the large birds away. We think they are scary enough to keep humans away as well. At a cost of $3,000, the robocreature can move up to 25 mph, grinning evilly the entire time of operation. So far Colorado, Massachusetts, Wisconsin and New York have invested. This is definitely a positive alternative to removing geese by deadlier means.
Engineers from the University of Zurich's Artificial Intelligence Lab have begun a rush job on a service robot designed to look like a humanoid boy that will be unveiled March 2013. To be named Roboy, the 1.2m tall bot will have artificial tendons for smoother actions. He will also have soft skin and his face will be designed after taking a poll helping decide what it should look like. While the project has 15 partners and 40 engineers, the creators are hoping that it can find other backers. A donation of $55,000 means adoption and a logo on Pinocchiobot.
While we understand their zeal in wanting to help the planet with helpers for the infirm and elderly, we have a silly notion that Roboy morally represents a victim of robotic child labor.
For the past 3 years, 10 teams have been competing in a Robot Rodeo to perform bomb squad chores. Orlando's $250,000 entry into the competition managed to move through a dark building, go over a curb and stairs, shoot water at a targe,t then remove a faux hand grenade. Each team is required to complete the task in less than 35 minutes. The prize for all of this is the honor of hosting the next year's event. Volusia county won this year.
Toshiba has developed a robot to help inspect the Fukushima nuclear reactor which is still a do not enter site a year and a half after the disaster. Looking a bit like Boston Dynamic's Big Dog, the bot is operated remotely and has a camera for inspection. Three feet tall and weighing about 143 lbs., it has four legs and two arms that can unpack a second, smaller robot for exploration. Still a prototype, the company is working on its positioning skills, giving it shielding and teaching it to stop water flow and remove obstacles.
Watch out! That mannequin may be watching your every move. Almax's EyeSee has facial recognition and can log age, gender and race of those who are shopping. This is useful in determining shopping habits of retail customers and keeping an eye on would-be shoplifters. The Italian-based company also plans to add screens nearby to inform customers to purchase items relevant to their profile. We suspect that puts them one step away from the ability to speak out with comments like, "Step down. We know what size pantyhose size you wear."
Momentum Machines is working on a robotic system, nicknamed Patty, that can cook burgers and toast buns, then slide them down to a compartment where veggies get sliced and placed on the burgers. It then adds condiments and bags them. Apparently the entire operation takes less than 30 seconds, thereby leaving the human burger worker to join the ranks of the unemployed. The 5 foot tall prototype is still a work in progress and judging by the unappetizing imagery, it will be a while before a Pattyburger is actual competition.
Foxconn, the Taiwan-based manufacturer that has had complaints of poor working conditions to the point that there were 16 suicides, had promised better conditions and higher wages. It seems that they are opting for robotic workers that will never complain to replace some of their 1.2 million employees. About 10,000 Foxbots were reportedly delivered to one of the factories, with another 20,000 expected by the end of the year. While each costs around $20,000, about three times the average worker's salary, they certainly will not complain about unsanitary bathrooms or nutritionless meals.
CIROS is a kitchenbot created by the Korean Institute of Science and Technology. He chops, he dices, he slices. Okay we embellish, but we hear he can grab some ingredients from the fridge, slice the veggies, add dressing, serve the salad and tea, and scrub up afterwards. Stereoscopic cameras and sensors help him recognize objects. From the video it looks like he could use a bit of quality control but hey, he is the one wielding the knife.
JAMES (Joint Action for Multimodal Embodied Social Systems) is a robotic bartender that not only serves drinks, he serves up jokes. At about a meter tall, he only has one working arm and is programmed to serve customers in order. We dug up his first demo that was done in November 2011 by his creators Manuel Giuliani and the Munich Research and Transfer Institute for Software-Intensive Systems.
This second video was made in May 2012. He seems to have improved but only in skills. (He still looks and sounds similar.) We are not sure if he can yet distinguish between the bottles he picks up or just grabs them in order. Either way, he is clearly a service bot in progress.
Google continues to map where no mapper has mapped before. This time it is the Grand Canyon. A 360º view of the Bright Angel Trail to the Colorado River means a ten mile hike that ranges in elevation from 6,900 feet in elevation to 2,400 feet, courtesy of Luc Vincent, Google engineering director, his team and handy trekker on his backpack. They then hiked back up from the Phantom Ranch through the South Kaibab Trail. Other trails were shot as well.
The automatic trekker captures images every 2.5 seconds with 15 5 mp cameras. Because the GPS data is limited, sensors record temperature, vibrations and orientation before turning them into images. Google wants to continue mapping in national forests, Mount Everest and even ancient edifices.
German solar company PV Kraftworker has put robotic arms to work to mount solar panels in the field. The arm has suction cups on the end and can therefore lift and position the panels with the aid of video cameras. Because it is mounted on a track vehicle it can work on any terrain.
Kraftwerkes says that the work that was done by 35 workers can now be done with only 3 workers in an eighth of the time for about half the cost. Future plans involve using robots to make electrical connections to panels that are glued to frames rather than screwed in.
Another German based company, Gehrlicher, also uses robots for the task as the video demonstrates. The obvious advantage here is that they can work in any kind of weather.
Still recovering from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, the Japanese government has been working with the Hybrid Assistive Limb exoskeleton. Developed by the University of Tsukuba's Cyberdyne, HAL has sensors that monitor signals coming from the user's brain. This takes the weight off the wearer's muscles and a computer monitors heart rate and breathing. The device is already being used for medical rehabilitation.
Because it has the additional feature of blocking radiation on the outside while the inside circulates air, HAL should be suited for work in the disabled power plant. Unfortunately, it may take decades to decommission it. The video shows the suit being demonstrated last year.
The Georgia Institute of Technology recently received a $900,000 endowment from the Office of Naval Research to develop a problem-solving robot. They plan to create a MacGyver-like bot that can solve problems and work with available materials in the area, i.e. using boxes to climb. Team leader Professor Mike Stilman says that they are attempting to understand "basic cognitive processes that allow humans to take advantage of arbitrary objects in their environments as tools."
Algorithms will be used to help develop the software that will be placed in Stillman's Golem Krang humanoid robot that will eventually be used in disaster areas or other dangerous places humans should not go.