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, a robot baby wants a hug, a London bus works out, and a manta robot goes for a swim.
The Infant Bot
It is almost a law of nature that a baby of any species is cuter than its grownup counterpart. But if this video is any guide, that doesn’t hold true for robots. The skeletal, faceless version of Osaka University’s Affetto robot is pretty freaky, and it only gets worse when it dons a hoodie and reaches out for a hug. The university’s Asada Laboratory is using the baby bot to study “cognitive robotics,” or how robots can learn based on interactions with their environment and with humans. The idea for humans to interact with the robot as they would with a real baby, and for the robot’s learning process to lend insight to a baby’s cognitive development. It’s an interesting concept, but I’d guess it’s hard for anyone to treat Affetto like a real baby if they’ve seen it like this.
Via The Verge.
The Olympian Bot
Strong arms and symbols of London will dominate television for the next 17 days, and Czech artist David Cerny brought them both together in this beastly double-decker. The machine, named the London Booster, is powered by an electric motor, but that doesn’t keep it from grunting as it raises its six-metric-ton body into the air. Recorded sounds and video give the impression that the bus is really exerting itself with each motion. Cerny chose to depict push-ups for the Olympics because they are the “one common exercise for every sportsman in the world,” he tells the United Kingdom’s Metro. He hopes London Booster becomes the unofficial mascot of the 2012 Games, and given the response to the official mascots, he might get his wish.
The Manta Bot
Manta rays use a graceful set of motions to glide through the water, and researchers at the University of Virginia want to know more about it. As professor Hillary Bart-Smith explains in the video, this robot was created to understand why manta rays and stingrays move the way they do, and how that movement can be applied to underwater autonomous vehicles. Rays swim quickly and efficiently, which is important for robots that may have limited power sources, and their broad, flat shape means they could carry a relatively large payload. The manta bot is a prime example of biomimicry in robotics, which Bart-Smith describes perfectly in the video: “Understanding the science basically allows us to take advantage of what nature has already done. And if we can understand the current science—the science of the biology—then we can actually try and improve upon that.”
The Stair Master Bot
After seeing the Nao robot perform the Evolution of Dance, climbing a few stairs doesn’t seem like it should be a notable accomplishment—but it is. Yes, it’s really slow, but this feat shows that the bot is highly aware of its surroundings. (It also knows how to celebrate when it succeeds, which is at least as important as the success itself.) Students at Germany’s University of Friedburg developed the technique that allows the robot to ascend the staircase. And to make sure it doesn’t get stuck up there, they also taught it to (very carefully) go down a ramp. Stairs have long been a challenge for robots, and there have been some great slip-ups, but conquering the steps will be a major milestone in creating robots that can navigate our homes and offices.