Robotics Tech Digest - February 2017

Robots in action

Boston Dynamics has released a video of its latest robot, Handle. The video shows Handle, a bipedal wheel-footed robot, skating through a warehouse at speed, circling, standing, squatting and doing rollerblading style stunts like jumping onto tables and over hurdles backwards. The company claims that Handle can carry 45-kilogram objects and can travel 24 kilometres on a single charge. 
Another bipedal robot has been displayed by Agility Robotics called Cassie. In the video, Cassie is able to walk forward, backward and side-to-side on its ostrich-like legs. Agility Robotics sees Cassie potentially being used in search and rescue operations and as a delivery robot. The company says that it will be adding more sensors to Cassie to enable it to get up after a fall, and a VR style telepresence system.
Ghost Robotics’ Minotaur has been shown navigating outdoor environments. In a video release the quadruped robot is seen jumping up steps, crawling through long grass, walking across stony terrain, jumping gaps, crawling under cars, and walking across ice and snow. Ghost Robotics says that this sort of manoeuvrability will be crucial if robots are to be used in real world applications. 

Bat-bot mimics complex flight patterns

A novel bat robot has been built by a team of roboticists at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. The bat-like robot, weighing 93 grams, can mimic several complex aerial manoeuvres of real bats, such as diving, and banked turns, with the help of its stretchy silicone articulated wings. Previous attempts to mimic bats in bots have not achieved great results as bat wings are complex, containing more than 40 joints, so the team simplified the task by identifying the nine crucial joints and covering them in a silicone   membrane to provide lift. They also enabled the wings to be opened and closed. 

Thubber – a new material for soft robots

Scientists at Carnegie Mellon University have developed a thermally conductive rubber material – called ‘Thubber’ – that could have uses in soft, stretchable electronics. The material is a suspension of non-toxic, liquid metal microdroplets, and has metal-like thermal conductivity and skin-like elasticity, with the ability to stretch to six-times its initial length. It is these properties that make the material highly appropriate for use in wearable electronics and soft robotics. To demonstrate the effectiveness of the material the team attached an LED onto a strip of it which they then tied around a runner’s leg. Because the material effectively conducted the heat from the LED the runner did not get burned by the heat from the LED. 

Stock checking drones

Singapore based Infinium Robotics is using drones indoors to transport food and as stock takers in warehouses. The company’s Infinium Scan drones can autonomously move around a warehouse scanning barcodes and cataloguing inventory. Infinium says that the drones do not need collision-avoidance technology nor GPS for navigation; how this is achieved remains unstated.  The company’s drones are currently being tested in warehouses in Singapore, and the company intends to roll out the solution in mid-2017, reports CNBC.

Follow me robot

Italian vehicle manufacturer Piaggio has developed a robot that follows a person and can be used to carry things such as groceries. The robot called Gita can carry 19 kilograms inside a hollow in its circular body. The wheeled robot can follow a person using its two stereoscopic cameras to perform SLAM (simultaneous location and mapping) and correlate the information so gained with SLAM also being performed from a camera worn on the human user’s belt. The robot is also able to autonomously navigate an environment it has previously navigated. 

MIT researchers make hydrogel bots

MIT engineers have developed hydrogel robots that can move when water is pumped in and out of them. A hydrogel bot in the form of a claw can trap a fish in its grasp. As a bendable limb, it can kick a ball under water at a speed and force that exceeds similar experiments. The scientists say that they are currently considering medical uses for the hydrogels as they are capable of applying soft pressure and are soft, wet and biocompatible making them suitable for use in the body.

Exoskeleton

Roam Robotics, an American robotics company, has been developing light weight, low cost, and powerful exoskeletons which it hopes can be used in everyday life to help those who need it. Roam Robotics’ focus on affordability and lightness means that they have diverged from the usual materials and instead mostly use plastics and high strength fabrics to make their exoskeletons. The company plans to have the exoskeleton commercially available in 2018.

Robot security guard

Cobalt, a robotics company, has recently revealed its robotic security guard for indoor spaces. The robot patrols the office, warehouse, or museum space using its 60+ sensors to look for security relevant information – new people, door and window status, suspicious items, moved or changed items, water leaks etc. When its AI detects an anomaly, it will call in to a human overseer to get instructions. The robot will self-charge when needed. It can provide 3D mapping of WiFi strength, or temperature. To help humans interact with the robot it has a touch screen display. 

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