The first thing you notice when visiting the University of Pennsylvania’s GRASP Laboratory–General Robotics Automation, Sensing, And Perception–is that the robots are everywhere. Massive workrooms at the laboratory are filled with bots of all shapes and sizes, from tiny humanoids outfitted to play soccer to insect-like flying drones that operate in an intelligent swarm (you may have seen them in a recent TED talk by GRASP’s Vijay Kumar).
The lab is home to an interdisciplinary team of engineers, computer programmers, and mathematicians working together with Penn students to create robots that perform surgery, play sports, and fly without any human control. It’s also an incubation space for startups. Daniel Mellinger’s KMel Robotics specializes in autonomous flying robots, and experimental robotics in general. Another firm, Sandbox Innovations, leverages innovations from robotics to use in emergency first response products.
That’s why I visited GRASP for this latest installment of Who’s Next—where I met a small humanoid robot programmed to play soccer. The soccerbot, featured in the opening of our clip, has functioning joints, peripheral vision, and the ability to pull itself back up after a fall. Look out, David Beckham.