Posted Friday, Nov. 16, 2012, at 3:33 PM
This week, robots tap into your brain, stand up to a baseball bat, and learn to do the laundry.
The Brain Wave Bot, Part 1
From Japan comes a robot that turns thoughts into action. This humanoid machine from the CRNS-AIST Joint Robotics Laboratory takes its commands from a human who does little more than think about what he wants the bot to do. To control the robot, a user wears a cap that senses brain activity and translates those signals into tasks. The user watches a screen showing the robot’s point of view, and flashing objects on the display help focus the user’s attention enough to be picked up by the cap’s sensors. This setup can be used to help people who’ve been paralyzed, much like the robotic arm that helped a paralyzed woman drink coffee, and it could be a first step toward mind-controlled emergency responders when a situation is too dangerous for humans. The director of the robotics lab tells PopSci it could even be used for sightseeing around the world—but for now you’re probably better off perusing Google Street View the old-fashioned way.
The Brain Wave Bot, Part 2
With recent advances in neuroscience and robotics, there’s a big push to help people regain mobility after having a stroke. At Georgia Tech’s BrainLab, computer scientist Melody Moore Jackson is building an exoskeleton that a person can control with her thoughts alone. Like the robot above, a user is shown lights that help her brain focus on movement. Through this research, Jackson has found that this type of activity actually allows a paralyzed person’s brain to change the signals that control movement, which could help restore movement to a paralyzed limb.
The Beat-Up Bot
Tee ball just got a whole lot cooler. iRobot wanted to prove to the world that its robotic hand, built as part of DARPA’s Autonomous Robotic Manipulation program, could take a beating. And what better way to smash something than with an aluminum baseball bat? The video demonstrates some of the device’s best qualities—that it’s soft and flexible enough to avoid serious damage, but strong enough to grab on to an object. The fingers are made of a rubbery substance lined with sensors and other components, and the whole hand can hold up to about 50 pounds.
Via IEEE Spectrum.
The Learning Bot
Finally! A robot to fold your laundry! OK, this one can actually do a lot more than that—in fact, it can do just about any simple task you teach it. Maya Cakmak from the prolific Georgia Tech designed a system that allows just about anybody to teach a robot new tasks without having to do any traditional computer programming. In tests, users with no formal robotics training were given a brief instruction guide and set out to teach the robot tasks like folding shirts or pulling medicine out of a cabinet. By demonstrating the actions and giving verbal cues, the participants were able to teach the robot with little difficulty—even when different people took different approaches to achieve the same goal. If this means I never have to fold another T-shirt, I’ll buy one right now.