The other day we covered two home-care/health-care robots that may arrive soonish, though we noted their utility was slightly limited by a lack of hands. Well, Georgia Tech has stepped in with a vision of this sort of bot's future: With arms.
Georgia Tech is actually working on the cutting edge of these non-android domestic or health-care machines as part of its Healthcare Robotics effort, and this particular device, dubbed Cody, would seem to be a genuine glimpse of the near future. Like the two previous machines, Cody's a tall, slender wheeled device--about the right height to interact with humans and, therefore, all the furniture and gizmos that you find around a typical room environment. And whereas Honda's Asimo machine has been built on years of research into human-like two-legged locomotion, Cody's design neatly side-steps all that complexity (which requires lots of computing power as well as large electrical demands) by going down the four-wheel, stable-platform route. But to give him maximum maneuverability, he does have compound omni-directional tires that let him roll pretty much in any direction.
And that kind of precision is needed to position Cody's manipulator arms (each with seven degrees of freedom and acting a lot like a human arm) to interact with objects--check out Cody autonomously pulling open a cabinet door. This simple operation doesn't sound like much, but trust me: The programming needed to get the robot do this is tough stuff, and it's actually a degree of interactive sophistication above what the multi-million dollar Asimo can do. Not to mention the huge help it could be to a wheelchair-bound person who can't reach what he needs.
But the robot's sensors give it the most promising powers yet--Cody can be led by the hand, which is a much more natural way of interacting with the machine than a keypad or perhaps even voice control can deliver. In the video below you can see him in a mock-up medical setting, aiding a nurse, and probably about to help move a patient from a hospital bed into a chair.
This is exactly why you can expect to see this sort of robot arriving in our lives before the more fantastical android machines that borrow more of their thinking from sci fi than reality: Cody, and machines like him, could be fantastically useful both in terms of saving human time and money. Cody, with arms and robot fingers and such, is even a step up in practicality than Caprica's Serge... though we do hope that should Georgia tech ever give their bot a voice, they add in some of Serge's dry sense of humor.
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