The Week's Best Robot Videos: A Bot Asks for Directions

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Oct. 19 2012 1:46 PM

The Week's Best Robot Videos: A Bot Asks for Directions

FT-iuro
Iuro the robot

Still from YouTube.

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 watches you while you sleep, a wheelchair overcomes obstacles, and a wanderer stops to ask for directions.

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The Urban Bot
Iuro is cursed with always needing to ask for directions. Also known as Interactive Urban Robot, Iuro is an experiment in creating robots that can function in densely populated areas, even when its knowledge of the area is incomplete. Like a lost tourist, Iuro is cast out into Munich with no information about its surroundings. Using cameras, a Kinect sensor, and some artificial intelligence, the bot seeks out people on the street who can help guide it to its predetermined final destination. Researchers are using the bot to study human-robot interaction, and they’ve already discovered that Iuro’s touchscreen distracts many people from its anthropomorphic face. The project is funded by the European Union and led by teams at four European universities and one engineering firm. As informative as this project may be, it’s easy to imagine that a lone robot wandering the streets would be deeply suspicious to passersby. Though, if nothing else, that prospect should be great fodder for any sci-fi writers looking to bring James Joyce’s Ulysses into the future.

The Dream Bot
This robot can turn a good night’s sleep into a true work of art. As part of the Sleep Art Experience, mattresses at five European hotels have been outfitted with 80 sensors that track a person’s motion, sound, and temperature. That information is then sent to a robotic arm in Paris and translated into brushstrokes—resulting in abstract patterns that are theoretically representative of each person’s sleep. It’s not clear how the artwork of a sleep-talker differs from one who tosses and turns, or how any of the three data inputs affects the final product, but three paintings are already on display on the Ibis hotel company’s Facebook page. And anyone around Paris, Berlin, or London can sign up there for a chance to create the painting of their dreams.

The Wearable Bot
The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear crisis in 2011 brought new urgency to develop robots that can help in disaster situations. Many projects in development focus on making bots that can explore and repair damage remotely, keeping humans out of harm’s way, but there are still some jobs that only people can do. To help in those cases, the Japanese robotics company Cyberdyne created the Hybrid Assistive Limb exoskeleton. The wearable robot uses a tungsten-based shield to reduce radiation exposure, and the machinery helps its user lift heavy loads. The bot can also help disaster workers carry their gear, which can weigh up to 110 pounds. The structure works in tandem with the user’s body, sensing brain signals and body movements to keep the motions more or less natural. The exoskeleton has previously been used to help people with difficulty walking, including those in physical therapy, but this new form could be a revolutionary adaptation in the aftermath of future disasters.

Via Gizmag, AFP.

The Wheelchair Bot
The world isn’t always wheelchair accessible. Even small bumps in sidewalks can present big challenges for wheelchair users, so researchers at Japan’s Chiba Institute of Technology reimagined the approach to seated mobility. The device they created combines traditional rolling with a mechanism for crawling up stairs or over bumps. Each wheel on this chair has its own sensors to detect obstacles, and when it encounters something it can’t roll over, an onboard computer determines the best way to step over the object while keeping the user seated comfortably in the chair. Designers are still in the concept stage on this chair, but they plan to test it on more people and fine-tune the user experience.

Via Gizmag.

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.