Every Friday, Future Tense rounds up the best robot videos of the week. Seen a great robot video? Tweet it to @FutureTenseNow, or email us. This week, we see bots learn from birds and help out around the kitchen.
The Flapper Bot
Hatched at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, this robot mimics the flight of birds and bats to make a graceful, precise landing. The aircraft glides like a plane to get close to its target. As it approaches, it flaps its wings to slow down and carefully perches itself where it belongs—in this case, on the back of someone’s hand. (The technical aspects are explained in the first half of the video, and we get to see it in action around 1:15.) The group, from the university’s Aerospace Robotics and Control Laboratory, sees their design as a step forward in the interaction of humans and aerial robots by allowing bots to fly to people safely. Since it doesn’t appear to be shooting or spying on anyone, we’re inclined to agree.
The “Capable Helper” Bot
If this were a real medical emergency, Cindy would be about as unhelpful as it gets. But because this is just a test run, we can all afford to admire the advanced robotics at work here. From the Human-Robot Interaction Laboratory at Tufts University, Cindy is an autonomous robot able to understand conversational language and act (albeit very slowly) on verbal instructions. According to the video description, Cindy understands that it needs to get a medical kit for “Commander Z,” but doesn’t know what the medical kit looks like. It asks for a description, searches for something that matches, and retrieves it. Then Cindy takes the kit to the room where she was told “Commander Z” is waiting for her. Yes, it’s almost comically slow here, but it’s an amazing proof of concept that could have a wide range of useful applications.
Via HRI Laboratory.
The Butler Bot
Carnegie Mellon University’s Quality of Life Technology Center is devoted to making robots for in-home care. As part of that mission, its researchers have created what might be the closest thing to a real-life Rosey the Robot. “HERB,” which stands for Home Exploring Robot Butler, is a Segway-based designed to help elderly or disabled people perform what could be difficult tasks at home. Roboticist Siddhartha Srinivasa of CMU’s Robotics Institute explains here that the machine is operating in a standard kitchen and is designed to work well even in tight spaces. To learn where things are, the bot builds maps of its surroundings, allowing it to microwave that meal to perfection.