When you're an MIT researcher and your laboratory's windows let in too much sunlight, obviously the only thing to do is to build a robot to solve your problem. Whence Shady, a window-climbing robot that unfurls a shade to block sunlight and glare.
If you've ever visited MIT's Computer Science and Artificial intelligence Lab, you'll know the Frank Gehry-designed Stata Center has some seriously strange architectural features. Among these are huge floor-to-ceiling windows installed on an incline and shiny metal roofing. Researchers in Daniela Rus's laboratory became annoyed at the sunlight reflecting off the roof and creating glare on their computer monitors throughout the afternoon. When they discovered that blinds for the custom windows were prohibitively expensive, they turned to what they knew best: robots.
Shady is a relatively simple robot that communicates with an operator computer via Bluetooth. Right now, there's not much that's autonomous about Shady, so the operator clicks on a graphic representation of the windows and Shady heads over to it. It uses grippers to grip the framing between windows and swings itself up and over to where it needs to be. Once it's reached its destination, it unfurls a piece of reflective material that shades the operator from direct sunlight or bad glare off the roof.
Shady itself is pretty whimsical, but the locomotion via rotating gripper is really interesting. The developers pointed out that this "truss-climbing" method of getting around is useful on things like scaffolding, or power line towers which need to be inspected and painted. I love what can come out of solving a simple problem.