“To create a robot we are more likely to accept, life-like expressions are vital.” That’s the motivation that led scientists to build this robot, according to the New Scientist write up.
It’s an odd statement not only because it makes you wonder why life-like expressions is so crucial—are we planning to emotionally manipulate the ignorant masses using robotic faces?—but also because of how far they still have to go, judging from how difficult blinking looks. Ouch. And there’s also the, uh, sound effects.
Robots like this? That’s nuts.
If mechanical engineer David Hu ruled the world, it would be crawling with robots based on mosquitoes, snakes, and Mexican jumping beans. Hu’s lab studies animal locomotion, but the research goes beyond the traditional slow-motion footage of creatures running. Instead, Hu examines topics like how water striders and rafts of ants stay afloat on water’s surface, the mechanics of giant pumpkins collapsing into amorphous blobs under their own weight, how snakes’ scales affect their slither, the optimal way for furry animals to shake off water, and how mosquitoes survive collisions with comparatively huge raindrops. His group has even analyzed the motion of Mexican jumping beans, which is due not to some inherent magic in the “beans,” but rather to temperature-sensing moth larvae in hollow seeds. (When the ground heats up, the larvae sense the change in temperature and make their seedy houses twitch into rolling movements towards cooler, shadier ground.) These topics are weird and interesting enough to have garnered Hu’s work plenty of media coverage. But when it comes to earning funding, “weird and interesting” doesn’t always cut it. What’s the practical purpose of this research? Instead of shrugging and saying, “Now we know how mosquitoes struggle out from water droplets 50 times their size! That’s pretty cool!” Hu has come up with a standard one-size-fits-all application. At the end of his papers, he adds that whatever wacky phenomenon he studied could inspire…robots! Read More
When bacteria attack a host, they aren’t a conversation about whether to go after a particular cell; they’re doing something called quorum sensing, which means that just by sensing what others around it are doing, an individual starts doing a certain thing. Social insects use a similar technique to pick out a new nesting site.
Now, thanks to some elegant nature-inspired programming by MIT researchers, a pack of bipedal robots are using quorum sensing to execute a complex behavior that human groups have tried—and, by and large, failed—to perform for decades: The robots can do the Thriller dance in unison—and, what’s even more impressive, if one misses a few steps, it can rejoin the other dancers without a hitch.
This sort of technological synchrony, Technology Review’s arXiv blog points out, could make such robots invaluable in construction or manufacturing tasks that require high levels of cooperation. That would be well and good, but after seeing those moves, we’re just wondering what other dances they might know—and whether they do bar mitzvahs.
When it gets cold out, staying warm usually means either cranking up the heat—and, thus, the heating bill—or piling on the sweaters and straying from the radiator’s immediate vicinity only when absolutely necessary. But your days of dashing between warm spots, or paying extra for the privilege of not, may soon be at an end. A new robot can keep you warm by saving up the heat you’ve already got until you need it.
As technology marches ever onward, robots have taken on more and more of life’s necessary jobs: heavy lifting, precise mechanical manipulations, and, of course, predicting the future.
Peppering the fairs and festivals of India, striking in their boldly colored if battered armor, are a fleet of robots that are part fortune cookie, part street-corner psychic. These bots wait in perpetual readiness to dispense their pre-programmed wisdom, and for only 5 rupees or so, the robot’s handler will allow you to plug a pair of headphones into its metallic underpants and listen as it tells your fortune.
The fortune-telling robots come in a range of shapes and sizes to best suit your fortune-telling needs (there is, in fact, a Flickr pool devoted to the various specimens). One of our favorite designs is the mod/retro combination of a smattering of LED lights and an analog clock, for those mortals bogged down in the worldly concerns of time (below).
The robots’ wisdom, apparently, comes on prerecorded tapes, audio fortune cookies that foresee the future in Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, and Telgu. Not having heard the tapes ourselves—and not having any languages in common with the robots—we aren’t certain about the scope of these predictions. Do the robots whisper ticker symbols and stock market prices of the day after tomorrow? Do they speak of wars and famines, or the mundanities of day-to-day life? We wish we knew. Do you?
Images: Jitendra Prakash / Reuters; courtesy of Paul Keller / Flickr
MABEL here is a fast lady. At 6.8 miles per hour, she’s the quickest human-like runner in the robot world. She is also the owner of some of the freakiest knees, right up there with Dr. Seuss’s ominous pale green pants and the spider-like prancings of BigDog, the defense robot you hope you never meet coming through the woods at night.
Running robots could transport baggage and participate in rescue operations where rugged terrain makes wheeled vehicles useless, which is why DARPA funds projects like the quadruped BigDog, which is already fairly well developed and has a top speed of about 5 mph. MABEL is a biped bot, which means she’s probably less stable than a quadruped, but more able to potentially stand in for humans in activities like climbing stairs (and certainly a more useful instance of human biomimicry than some robots we could name). Watching her strut her stuff around a little indoor track in the video above, you’ll notice the springing motion of her legs, which is very similar to a human running–both spend about 40% of their time in the air, according to her builders, a team of roboticists at University of Michigan.
Ooo, ahh, and pity the lab downstairs.
[via Kurzweil AI]
Several years ago, researchers in (you guessed it) Japan put together a reasonable facsimile of the human vocal apparatus in an attempt to help hearing-impairing people learn to better modulate their voices. The details of how this process works can be perused here, but we’d just like to treat you to a trailer of this creepy little puppy in action, moaning the nursery rhyme “Kagome, Kagome,” before some major film studio options it for a B-grade horror flick. Titles, anyone?
Good news dental students: soon you will no longer have to approach your first victim patient with shaky, unsure hands. Researchers at Showa University in Japan have unveiled a new dental dummy, a realistic robot for dental students to practice on before taking the drill to real, human mouths.
ReconRobotics has unveiled a reconaissance microbot that can provide anti-piracy forces with valuable surveillance information. Yep, that’s right: There are now tiny robots that board pirate ships.
Pirate-fighting forces often have to board a ship with incomplete information, not knowing exactly what’s going on below decks, how many pirates are on board, or how the ship’s crew is faring—putting them at a dangerous disadvantage. To help these forces take stock of the situation before going in, ReconRobotics is making a seafaring version of its ReconScout Throwbot, a one-pound remote-controlled robot that can be tossed into a building and zip around taking video surveillance, sending the feed back to its controller. This new bot has magnetic wheels that let it drive straight up a vertical metal wall—meaning that if anti-piracy forces toss the robot onto a ship’s hull, it can climb on board and send back valuable video recon.
Some bald men are willing to go to great lengths to grow hair, including paying a robot to punch holes through their scalp skin. Recently approved by the FDA, a new robot takes out tiny pieces of your flesh in order to harvest hair follicles that can then be manually implanted into your bald spots.
Dubbed the ARTAS System, this automated robot images your head to single out a follicular unit, and then uses its robotic arm to make 1 mm-diameter “dermal punches” into your scalp. It continues extracting hair follicles from parts of your head that have sufficient amounts of hair (a process known as follicular unit extraction, or FUE), and these bits of flesh and hair are then stored until a doctor implants them into your bald and thinning areas. Within a few months, these newly-planted hairs start growing just like your other ones.