The Week's Best Robot Videos: An Autonomous Audi Hits 120 MPH

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Aug. 17 2012 1:04 PM

The Week's Best Robot Videos: An Autonomous Audi Hits 120 MPH

Maybe someday racecars like these will be autonomous

Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images for NASCAR

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 take to the road, the sky, and outer space.


The Racecar Bot
Forget those boring self-driving cars that obey the speed limit. “Shelley” is a robotic lead-foot from Stanford’s Dynamic Design Lab. The Audi TTS, fitted with an autonomous driving system, recently showed off at a three-mile racetrack in California, completing the course in less than two and a half minutes and reaching 120 miles per hour. The car guided itself along the track, which includes blind turns, and figured out the best way to steer, accelerate, and brake for maximum speed. The next step for researchers is to monitor professional drivers as they complete the course to figure out how they can post even better times. Even if you don’t plan on buying a self-driving car for its speed racing prowess, the technology on display here could be used to help our cars take control when they hit an icy patch, for example. So calm down, Florida voters, autonomous cars are here to help.

Via NBCNews.

The Indoor Drone
MIT’s Robust Robotics Group
is bringing automated, fixed-wing airplanes indoors with this drone that can navigate tight quarters all by itself. The plane  has on-board sensors to identify obstacles and an algorithm to find a safe flight path around them. . With rapid advancements in autonomous flight in recent years, one remaining challenge has been to make aircraft that can navigate the world without GPS, which would be inaccessible indoors. Many teams use helicopters as indoor drones, but there are trade-offs to using a plane instead: while a plane takes up more room and can’t make very aggressive maneuvers, it can also stay aloft longer, and needs less energy to  travel around. Drones like this could be used to survey dangerous areas, like the inside of a building after a disaster, and presumably to  shoot some great crime-busting scenes for Hollywood.

The Space Drone
NASA’s autonomous robotics projects are in full force. Curiosity lowered itself to the Martian surface last week, the autonomous Morpheus spacecraft staged a fit in testing, and now the Mighty Eagle has landed. The four-foot-tall, 700-pound robot is back in testing for the first time since last year. At the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., it flew about 30 feet into the air and hovered before landing itself back on the launch pad. In other tests running through next month, it will fly up to 100 feet high and travel about 30 feet away from the launch pad. Though it’s still in the early testing phases, NASA scientists hope the Mighty Eagle can be used to explore celestial objects without atmospheres, like the moon or asteroids—which means it could put Bruce Willis out of a job.

The Home Care Bot
Assistive robotics holds a lot of potential for elder care. Robots that can move quickly, never forget, and work with other technologies can help make life at home easier for senior citizens. Hector, a robot from the CompanionAble Project in Europe, can store a person’s schedule, set reminders for events and medications, and even call emergency services if someone falls. Users can leave objects with Hector that he’ll bring over when you call his name, and the broader smart-home system means most of the functions can be accessed from screens anywhere in the house. This kind of machine could bring a new level of independence to people who need assistance around the house. It is funny to watch a robot stop someone headed out the door to ask when they’ll be back home—hopefully it doesn’t get lonely. (Related: A Future Tense piece asks whether the elderly will ever accept care from robots.)

Via Forbes.

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


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