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  • 01.24.11

With Artificial Retinas, a Robot Balances a Pencil [Video]

Advancing the important cause of robotic party tricks, Swiss researchers also solved a visual processing problem.

Swiss researchers have developed a robot that can balance a pencil. New Scientist informs us that pole-balancing is, apparently, a “well-known exercise in robotics research.” But roboticists weren’t able to make a robot that balanced a “pole” as small as a pencil–until the Swiss researchers struck upon a novel visual processing idea.

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The pencil-balancing acrobat doesn’t rely on a video feed for its visual input. Rather, the researchers developed “silicon retinas” that only focus on sudden changes in illumination. This mimics how our eyes actually work, and it reduces the processing load for the robot, allowing it to react more quickly.

New Scientist captured some great video of the robot doing what it does best (or, to be more precise, doing the only thing it does):

As the researchers explain on their site, “our processing algorithm
extracts the pencil position and angle without ever using a ‘full
scene’ visual representation, but simply by processing only the spikes
relevant to the pencil’s motion.”

Apart from solving the world’s dire pencil imbalance problem, what other applications can we expect to see from these “artificial retinas”? We’ve reached out to the researchers to find out, and will update when we hear back.

[Image: Flickr user playadura]

About the author

David Zax is a contributing writer for Fast Company. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Slate, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal.

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