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This Week In Bots: The Thanksgiving Edition

Okay, yes, these amazing machines were not exactly made for turkey day. But that doesn’t mean they couldn’t make the holiday more fun–with fewer dishes to do.

This Week In Bots: The Thanksgiving Edition

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Kinect House Maids

Meet SmartPal VII, a kind of interim stage before truly automated robot and butler bots start cleaning up your household mess for you–SmartPal’s brains are actually you. The robot from Yashkawa Electric is designed to be controlled via a gesture and motion-tracking interface powered through a Microsoft Kinect system. Some of the movements are automated–if you virtually reach toward an item on the floor, the tele-operated robot bends its midriff to place its grippers near the item.

You can also see SmartPal as a handy interface for future machines that you’ll leave roaming the home while you’re at work–inevitably they’ll encounter something that their AI won’t be able to deal with (perhaps snagging themselves on something pointy, and a powerful teleoperation mode would help.

Plus it fills us with dreams of the Thanksgiving of tomorrow, where all those dishes and dropped napkins could be dealt with by a smart robot… leaving the family time to spend doing more interesting things than clustering around the kitchen sink. Like drinking, bickering, and seething. And being thankful!

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Inflatable Robo Ride For Families

Forget those inflatable banana rides on your seaside vacation, this thing is a much more interesting beast and likely more Thanksgiving-friendly, what with the colder weather and all: Ant-Roach, from Otherlab, is a huge ridable robot walker. It can lift as much of 1,000 pounds in weight and moves by careful tweaking of pneumatic muscles, which means it’s strong enough to hoist your family aloft for a robotic elephant/ant/cockroach/thing ride. Fun family times! (Or, at the least, an unusual way to defuse that traditional family row!)

Partly for fun, Ant-Roach is also a demonstration of how powerful large-scale robots could be built–for a host of purposes from transport to construction. They’re also soft, meaning should one bump into a fragile human it’d likely do a lot less damage than a remote-controlled steel bulldozer.

KIST Nurse Bots Hit Europe

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If you’ve ever wondered exactly how robots may fit into a health care environment, then this video is for you. It’s part of a project by hospitals in Finland and Denmark that are using devices made by the Korean Institute of Science and Technology Center For Intelligent robots actually in real hospitals. They’re not lifting anyone into or out of bed, or assisting in tricky keyhole surgery, though: They’re for entertainment.

Fascinating, and not what one may have expected. You may also be right to worry that recovering patients may burst their stitches laughing at the inane antics of the devices, or burden the hospital’s mental health ward in search of post-robotic therapy… Let’s be thankful that for now we have the kindly attentions of real nurses to keep us amused and cheerful in an otherwise-difficult hospital environment.

Micromouse Maze Runner

Maze-solving is a classic test for both the maneuverability and autonomous smarts of robots, but none may impress you quite so much as Tsukuba, which just won the All Japan Micromouse Robot Competition. Like many similar machines, it has an autonomous maze-exploration mode so it can learn the solution–pretty speedily, and it’s worth noting that the bot is smart enough to know when it’s safe to sprint down a maze lane and take corners as curves all by itself:

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But then comes the magic bit: Tsukuba is the fastest maze-bot yet. When dropped back in to drive to the center of the maze, it’s fast…very fast:

Just 3.9 seconds, actually. Applications for this tech are pretty widespread, including autonomously navigating robots on a much larger scale and, who knows, perhaps even robot-powered cars (which would be one much safer way to get family members home after Thanksgiving dinner and a few glasses of wine…though hopefully a robot car wouldn’t accelerate with quite the same verve as Tsukuba).

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Romo Roving Smartphone

Robots featured in This Week In Bots tend to be one of two things: Available, but hugely expensive, or unavailable prototypes for near-future commercial machines. That’s just the state of the art at the moment (and we see it as encouraging–a sign that the long-promised robotic future is actually en route), but this bot is different. It’s cheap, available to buy soon, and has many of the same educational, experimental programmable smarts that you’ll find in more sophisticated machines like Nao. It’s a Kickstarter project called Romo. He’s pretty simple–just a rover bot for now–but it’s this simplicity that’s key to his attraction. Controlled by audio signals sent from an on-board smartphone running a specialist app, the robot is thus compatible with a wide range of smartphones.

And as app writers are being encouraged to develop new apps to power the droid, we’ll soon see additions to the release apps which include games like Romo Kart and useful “security” apps like RomoRemote, which lets it function as a mobile spy camera. Wanna scare grandpa awake with a noise blast from a robot as he dozes in an armchair in a turkey-induced nap? Next year you may be able to.

 

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lem robots

Stanislaw Lem Lives!

Google.co.uk today has a Google Doodle that’ll tickle the fancies of many a robot and sci-fi fan: It’s an animated line drawing to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the first book publication from Stanislaw Lem, Astronauci (The Astronauts). Key motifs in the Doodle are a number of robots, which form an interactive game. Perhaps Lem’s most popular robot book was The Cyberiad, short stories about a universe inhabited by robots. Luckily our universe, or at the very least our planet, is peopled with more fleshy life-forms. Because robot turkey sure doesn’t sound that tasty.

Happy holiday!

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

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About the author

I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise.

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