Give my cat a catnip mouse and she's a happy camper. Not so with Taylor Veltrop who took a 21" Nao robot, some Wiimotes, Kinect sensor bar, mini-cam, treadmill and brush to tend to his. We admire him for sticking to his project for over a year and hope his feline forgives him for that slight bonk in the head. We cannot wait for the 2-way audio chat that is to come next.
A team from the South Korean Asian Forum For Corrections built a combination prison guard and snitch that is programmed to monitor cells, keep prisoners in touch with human officers and analyze behavior that could be aggressive or suicidal. Fortunately for the inmates, this is a good robot (note the slight smile) and is not permitted to carry a taser or practice waterboarding. In the future, they are hoping to make the guardbot even more inmate friendly.
Take a look at NSK's robotic guide dog. It has wheels for flat areas that, should it need to take some steps, can become utile legs. Its graspable handle is used to maintain stability and it has a sensor to identify steps by converting it to shape, position and attitude info into 3D space. Because it takes about 10 years to raise a real guide dog, this is an excellent addition to a service area that could use, um, a leg up.
Shades of Silent Running! In a time when farmers and landscapers could use some extra help in a struggling economy, Harvest Automation is in the process of beta testing a small mobile robot that, as part of a team, can assist. Each grips a pot, has a deck for carrying, sensors to know where it is and spaces each plant. It can work 24/7 in all weather and when harvest time comes, can retrieve the finished product. The Massachusetts based wheeled farmbot is field testing now and should be available for consumers next year.
The Chiba Institute Of Technology has introduced a vehicle that moves like a slug that is flexible, waterproof and dust-free. Planned for search and rescue missions, the Slug Crawler Vehicle has a retractable exterior skin, camera to monitor surroundings and internal pulleys to steer and manipulate its motion. The next step is to build a larger SCV with better cameras and more range for the planet's next big disaster.
Remember the Ecobot, the one that can run on insects, sewage or garbage? Now there are two prototypes of Venus Fly Traps that may be able to feed it without human intervention. The University of Maine in Orono has artificial muscles coated with electrodes with a current that bends it. When an insect lands, voltage from sensors triggers a greater power source to apply opposite charges to the leaves and they are attracted to each other and close up. SNU in South Korea uses a clamshell-shaped piece of carbon fiber as a leaf and a metal spring that closes in when something lands on it. A current reopens the spring.
Japan's Ministry of Defense Research Department has developed a flying robot that works similarly to a helicopter. But it can also go forward at high speed or roll on the ground. And if it hits another object it just keeps moving along since it has gyro sensors. It weighs about 350 g, is 42cm in diameter and because it can be made from already available parts, only costs about $1,400 to build. Future plans for the Spherical Flying Machine are to use for reconnaissance and rescue situations. We may not shop in the same stores but we suspect other robotic experts to soon build their own version of the clever flybot.
A team of researchers at the National Physical Laboratory have devised a new system to train robots to pick ripe strawberries. Originally designed in 2009 for measuring cauliflower ripeness, it uses a combination of microwaves, radio frequencies, terahertz and infrared to select the fruit by amount of ripeness. After measuring crops in both fields and labs, algorithms determine the proper picking time. The NPL hopes to use it on other crops and industrial recycling centers (how do you determine when plastic is ripe?)
Sweden is the latest country to assist in the clean-up of the failed Fukushima fourth reactor. Husqvarna Construction is supplying a DXR 140 and DXR 310 that will tear down some of the damage and deal with the contaminated debris. The two service bots have been specially adapted and the larger 310 has a video camera and transmitting equipment for remote control. Takenaka Construction has been trained in their usage but they believe it will be years before things get back to even semi-normal.
Those U of Penn. Researchers have not only created a Poop Scoop, their MODLAB has a robot that can build and repair others or itself with spray-on foam and modular parts. The FoamBot is a wheeled cart with jointed modules that can spray to connect them to each other. The basic plan here is to develop a robot that can handle unknown emergencies quickly and cheaply. It's no surprise that they can be used in military applications, planetary endeavors and disaster relief, not to mention building several versions of itself for the eventual planet takeover.