The Week’s Best Robot Videos: a Lab Assistant and a Retail Elf 

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
July 6 2012 4:28 PM

The Week’s Best Robot Videos: a Lab Assistant and a Retail Elf 

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, robots try out human hands, legs, and occupations.

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The Leggy Bot 

This clip might not look like much, but it shows what developers at the University of Arizona say are the most human-like robotic legs ever created. It’s more than the motion that makes these legs so biologically accurate—the system controlling this bot’s movement is an electronic recreation of the human nerve cell network that governs repetitive muscle motion. The network, known as the central pattern generator, sends alternating signals to the leg muscles, and is responsible for the seemingly mindless motions involved in walking. Researchers think successfully mimicking that biological system could shed light on how babies learn to walk, or how people regain the ability to walk after suffering spinal cord injuries.

Via Wired, BBC.

The Handy Bot 

For those who’ve lost motion in their hands, some robotic rehabilitation may be on the way from Festo, a German robotics company. The ExoHand intricately recreates the motion of the human hand, using a glove to control a hand at the end of a robotic arm. The system is intended to help industrial workers subject to muscle fatigue, and it could also help people who have limited use of their hands due to muscle atrophy or stroke. As described in Forbes, Festo even envisions a way for stroke victims to control the hand with their brain, much like we saw Cathy Hutchinson do earlier this year.

Via Forbes.

The Lab Bot 

Mahoro is the kind of machine that makes humans look pretty weak. This robotic lab assistant is faster, more precise, and presumably less whiny than any human that would be doing its job. Oh, and it’s also less likely to be killed by all the hazardous materials it’s handling. Mahoro was developed by Yaskawa and Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, and it’s already being put to use by pharmaceutical companies and universities. Part of the robot’s appeal is its highly complex and adaptable functions. Mahoro was designed to do anything people can do, so it doesn’t need a special set of tools and it’s not limited to a small set of tasks. Combine all that with the relatively simple programming it takes to teach Mahoro new skills and the market for undergraduate lab assistants could get quite a bit smaller.

Via DigInfo TV.

The Retail Bot 

Don’t freak out if you think you see E.T. perusing the shelves at Carnegie Mellon University’s bookstore—it’s probably just this friendly little inventory robot. AndyVision was created to study how robots factor into the future of retail. The bot wanders through the store autonomously, creating a 3-D map to help guide itself and customers. As it moves about, it scans the shelves to see where products are located and where shelves need to be restocked. AndyVision can also count how many products are on a shelf and identify if items have been placed in the wrong spot. The project comes from the Intel Science and Technology Center in Embedded Computing, housed at Carnegie Mellon, and Priya Narasimhan, who leads the center, says in the video we can expect much more to come from robots in retail.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Adam Sneed is a researcher for Future Tense at the New America Foundation. Follow him on Twitter at @atsneed.