Posted Friday, Sept. 7, 2012, at 12:46 PM
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 Fix-it bot melts hearts, quadrotors dance through the air, and two monorail passengers ride for clean energy.
Aww. With its ticklishness, fondness for toy cars, and “Can I help?” attitude, the Fixbot hails from the Wall-E tradition of adorable machines. It was born as part of a marketing campaign for a company called Sugru, which vends self-setting moldable rubber. In a promotional video, Fixbot bustles around the house repairing various appliances, using its inquisitive red arm to tap the putty-like substance into place. (It also seems to giggle when you pat it on the head.) Directions to make your own Fixbot are available here. No need for special equipment—creating Fixbot just requires some tools found in every home, like a 3-D printer, an Arduino board, 4 Hitec HS-422 servos, a micro servo …
The cuteness continues with a new project out of Ithaca College in New York. Research shows that babies who are able to explore their surroundings reap developmental advantages. But such purposeful wandering can be difficult for babies with disorders that impede movement, like Down syndrome, spina bifida, and cerebral palsy. Enter the WeeBot, which lets these babies get in on the exploring, and its benefits. The WeeBot consists of a moving base topped with a Nintendo Wii balance board and a commercial baby seat. The “driver” operates it by leaning in the direction in which she wants to travel—and in a recent trial, five infants turned out to be remarkably quick studies, learning to use the WeeBot after just a handful of training sessions. Let’s hope they don’t get too good at it, though: Keeping track of a curious tot is hard enough when she’s not outfitted with her own smart car.
Via IEEE Spectrum.
The Glow Bots
It turns out that some robots can make pretty good performance artists. These 49 quadrotors stunned the audience at the voestalpine Klangwolke in Austria on Aug. 30 when they took to the air in a flashing cloud of fairy lights. Dreamed up by KMel robotics, an offshoot of UPenn’s GRASP lab, the bots appear to be controlled by a mounted Vicon system, which helps them carry out their precise choreography. (We also loved this video of KMel’s creations enacting the James Bond theme song at a TED conference in February). The designs are lovely, but now we’re waiting for hams like David Pogue to start using quadrotors to spell out their public marriage proposals.
The Solar Panel Helpers
Green technology may be growing cheaper, but that doesn’t mean the costs of gears, motors, and electronic controllers that keep solar panels oriented toward their light source don’t add up. The startup company QBotix recently obviated the need for these extra gadgets when it developed two battery-operated robots that travel around on monorails, adjusting the tilt of individual panels. Thanks to the QBotix Tracking System, customers can capture 15 percent more energy, build their servers on uneven ground (because of the monorail) and save on electrical wiring. They can also replicate everyone’s favorite childhood toy: The moving train set that chugs around the house on its miniature track.