This Week In Bots: Smooth Moves Edition

Come on droidy, do the locomotion…



Evolta’s Triathlon

Evolta is a tiny but deceptively complex little robot (actually a group of similar designs) that Panasonic uses to demonstrate the impressive staying power of its range of Evolta rechargeable batteries. The bot was designed by Robo-Garage and can be guided on its path by an infrared signal emitter. He’s already completed an impressive marathon and climbed the grand canyon but now it’s been revealed he’s going to undertake a triathlon event–including swimming, running, and cycling for a combined distance of 230 km.

The robot is essentially a simple promotional tool for Panasonic, but it does demonstrate a couple of impressive tech features that will be important for our robotic future: Staying power and long battery life. Though small, the robot’s been engineered to just keep going for impressively long tasks without breaking down, and the battery tech used to power it demonstrates that robots are becoming useful without haveing to hook up to a battery charging station every five minutes.

Disney’s Super Climber


Disney Research has put together a technology demonstrator robot that can climb a vertical wall, leap off, and parafoil gently to the ground–like some kind of Spiderman-Superman droid. Paraswift, as it’s called, uses a vortex generator to keep it tacked to the wall thanks to atmospheric pressure, and was originally designed for entertainment.

But the team at ETH Zurich that partnered with Disney to create the droid imagine that an evolution of the device could have real-world uses, including tricks like accurate mapping and imagery of tall buildings so that companies like Google can build detailed 3-D models for its maps solutions.

Quadrocopters Follow Trajectories

Quadrocopters keep getting more and more clever–now the researchers at the Flying Machine Arena at ETH Zurich have programmed them to learn, adaptively, to fly a specific trajectory through the air. It’s not as simple a task as you might think, since it involves giving the robot a degree of artificial intelligence so it can work out how far from the precise trajectory it has drifted or been gusted by wind, and then maneuver itself back onto track quickly and accurately. 


The reason it’s important is that when quadrocopters are deployed in real-world situations, the dynamics of air currents and weather are unpredictable, and if they’re to accomplish tasks like assembling buildings or dropping off supplies to troops in remote locations, they’ll need to follow trajectories that are precisely controlled (for battlefield security, for one example). The benefits of a network of such devices are that one leading quadrocopter can adaptively learn to cope with a situation and then pass that on to other copters in the swarm. 

HRP-4C Does a Spin

HRP-4C has already sent chills down our spines with its uncanny valley-busting dance moves that demonstrate how close the android has come to moving like a real human. Now its development team is showing a new move: The toe swivel. Since robot legs typically don’t have the flexibility or degree of freedom of human legs, a quick turn on the spot (a move you probably make much more frequently than you realize, particularly in social situations) usually requires a complex set of moves, synchronized to shuffle the robot around. HRP-4C, however, is now so much in control of her balance and foot placement that she can hop onto her toes and turn on the spot in a blink of an eye.


What HRP-4C is showing us is that when robots like this are interacting with people, they’ll be able to manuever just like we do. That’s important for safety, but may also boost trust in the humans working closely with robots.

Chat about this news with Kit Eaton on Twitter and Fast Company too.

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