A Robot in the Kitchen

Roboticists in Japan and South Korea are designing the household servants of the future

2 min read
A Robot in the Kitchen

Rosie, the robot who kept house for the title family in "The Jetsons," a 1960s animated television show, has at last come alive—sort of. Before you'll see a robot slicing cucumbers in your kitchen, researchers will need to make these mechanical servants smarter. Here's how three teams are tackling this challenge.

Photo: Erico Guizzo
University of Tokyo's Jouhou System Kougaku Laboratory

What: An HRP-2 humanoid robot learns to wash dishes.

How: The researchers are using a combination of human motion-capture and video-game-style simulations to teach the robot how to handle different dishware and deal with uncertainties. "We're focusing on failure detection," says Kei Okada, a University of Tokyo professor. "So if you move a cup while the robot is trying to grasp it, the robot just recomputes its actions." That is, it won't try to grab the cup from your hands—and then vaporize you.

Photo: Yuriko Nakao/Reuters
Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), Seoul

What: Mahru, a biped humanoid, can pop a snack into the microwave and bring it to you.

How: A human wearing a sensor suit performs tasks while a motion-tracking system records the action. The robot is programmed to reproduce the tasks while adapting to changes in the space, such as a displaced chair. "Robots that operate in human environments need to move like humans," says Bum-Jae You, head of KIST's Cognitive Robotics Center. Mahru also performs some dance moves like a pro.
Keep Reading ↓Show less

This article is for IEEE members only. Join IEEE to access our full archive.

Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

If you're already an IEEE member, please sign in to continue reading.

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions

The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
Horizontal
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof
DarkGray

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

Keep Reading ↓Show less