Watch a Robot Chop Up Noodles for a Chinese Restaurant

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Aug. 24 2012 10:15 AM

The Week's Best Robot Videos: Chopping Noodles for a Chinese Restaurant

120824-noodlebots

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 get cookin’, get grabby, and get by without a trace.

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The Noodle Bot
Chinese restaurateur Cui Runguan created this robotic army to tackle one of the worst jobs in his restaurant. The robots’ sole purpose is to slice noodles from a loaf of dough and put them into pots of boiling water. It’s a job that people don’t like to do, Runguan says, and his machine slices faster than a human, and for less money. It costs about $2,000, and Runguan has already sold more than 3,000 units. Customers seem to enjoy the robots’ products, though the bots merely slice the noodles, so the food is still mostly man-made. It’s easy to understand why people might not want such a repetitive and strenuous job, but is it so bad that even robots have to look angry when they do it?

The Camo-Bot
If you want to sneak about undetected, this robot might be your best friend. We’ve already seen the soft-bodied crawler slink through a tight space, and now researchers at Harvard have figured out how to make it change colors. Depending on the dye coursing through its silicone veins, the flexible robot can camouflage itself against its surroundings or make itself easier to see—even glow in the dark. Whoever’s at the controls can also change the temperature of the dyes, so the sneaky device can go unnoticed to the eye while still showing up on infrared cameras, and vice versa. The robot moves by pumping air through channels in the silicone rubber—a novel and inexpensive approach to robotic movement. Though, admittedly, the trail of tubes might foil any Mission Impossible-type plots.

The Airy Bot
As robots get more complex, they tend to get really heavy. For robots that are meant to be carried around, this can be prohibitive. iRobot’s PackBots, for instance, are a military favorite, but their arms can weigh up to 20 pounds. The new DARPA-backed alteration seen here uses an inflatable robotic arm to sidestep the weight issue while retaining a fair degree of functionality. The AIRarm is inflated by an on-board pump and the movements are controlled by strings, meaning it’s both lightweight and really cheap. When it comes to working on the battlefield, men and women in uniform could really appreciate an extra hand, without the extra weight.

The Grabber Bot
From Sandia National Laboratories comes the Sandia Hand, a four-fingered robotic hand designed with simplicity, strength, and cost in mind. The robot’s outer shell is made of strong plastic, and many of the inner parts were recycled from cell phones. The hand is modular, making it easy to replace broken fingers or attach other devices, like screwdrivers or flashlights, in place of the fingers. It’s dexterous enough to handle a wide range of objects—it easily picks up a PVC pipe, and with some concentration it scrapes a key off a desk and puts a battery into a flashlight. For now the hand is operated via a control panel or a glove with sensors, but it could be hooked up to an autonomous system in the future. When it’s ready for primetime, the Sandia Hand will set you back about $10,000.

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

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